PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Holders Zambia and Nigeria go head-to-head on Friday in the first heavyweight clash of the African Nations Cup as they seek to break the stalemate in Group C.
The match represents not only a chance for points in the battle for quarter-final places but also affirmation of both sides’ potential.
Zambia were surprise winners of the 2012 Nations Cup and the scalp of a major power like Nigeria would assuage those doubters who feel they were fortunate in the last tournament in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.
It will also give credence to Zambia’s ambition of qualifying for the next World Cup.
Nigeria say they are building a team for the future, according to coach Stephen Keshi and Friday could provide a good indication on how far they have progressed.
But while the first game at 1500 GMT will be the one for the purist, the next at 1800 pitting Ethiopia against Burkina Faso will draw the fans and passion.
Ethiopia are again expected to be backed by a raucous crowd at the Mbombela Stadium after an estimated 10,000 supported them in the first match.
Ethiopia earned their federation a $5,000 fine when they threw objects onto the pitch in protest at a red card handed to their goalkeeper in the first half.
But they left in delirious celebration after the team fought back to draw 1-1 with Zambia in the opening Group C game on Monday.
Burkina Faso also had cause for celebration after they forced a last gasp equaliser against Nigeria and will be targeting three points from the encounter.
Friday’s games follow Thursday’s 1-0 win for Ghana over Mali and a first ever Nations Cup point for minnows Niger, who held the Democratic Republic of Congo 0-0 in Port Elizabeth. (Editing by Tom Pilcher; firstname.lastname@example.org +27828257807 Messaging email@example.com)