20:00 BST, Monday 28th May, Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium (Port Harcourt, Nigeria)
In 22 days, Nigeria will find themselves facing up against Croatia in a bid to progress through the group stages of the World Cup and into the knock-out stages.
Before they do, they will be hoping to kick-start some sort of momentum going into the competition by playing a three-game mini-series of international friendlies against the Democratic Republic of Congo, England and the Czech Republic.
DR Congo will be disappointed to have not got through to the World Cup, finishing one point behind Tunisia in Group A of the CAF qualifying groups. In their second group game against Tunisia, DR Congo gave up a two-goal lead late in the game, ruining their chances of qualification.
As a result, Nigeria should not underestimate their opponents. With Group D consisting of Argentina, Croatia and Iceland, coach Salisu Yusuf should treat treat this as a good challenge ahead of the World Cup.
If the Super Eagles can ease past DR Congo on Monday, they will hope to build some sort of momentum going into Russia.
With Victor Moses unavailable for this fixture, expect Salisu Yusuf to field a strong team for this friendly match.
Through the course of their qualifying campaign, Nigeria went with a regular 4-2-3-1 but, since then, they have experimented with a number of different formations: 4-3-3 and 4-4-1-1.
Given Moses’ absence, it is likely that Kelechi Iheanacho will shift out to the right and Oghenekaro Etebo will take his place in the number ten spot.
DR Congo Lineup
Head coach Florent Ibenge has had to pick an experimental squad for this fixture with many of his regular players pulling out for various reasons.
As a result, there is a level of uncertainty as to the final lineup. Expect some iteration of a 4-2-3-1, however, as Ibenge has preferred it through qualifying.
Key Players: Odion Ighalo (Nigeria) vs Benik Afobe (DR Congo)
Two players who have both appeared in the Premier League and struggled in their own way, Odion Igahlo and Benik Afobe will provide the attacking threat for their respective teams.
While at Watford, Ighalo had a breakout season that saw him score 20 goals in 35 games, forging a particularly productive partnership with Troy Deeney.
After that, though, he struggled to hit the same level of form and, by his third season at the club, he only managed a solitary goal in 18 appearances.
Moving out to the Chinese Super League, Ighalo has increased his prolificacy once again, although he still hasn’t quite attained quite the same level for Changchun Yatai as he did for Watford in 2014/15.
Another itinerant striker, Afobe has never managed to make quite the same impact in the Premier League as his opponent on Monday.
Beginning at the Arsenal academy, he spent a somewhat nomadic existence in the Championship before moving to Bournemouth in 2016. In his only 30-plus-game season, in 2016/17, Afobe only found the target six times.
With so many of DR Congo’s big names out for this fixture, he’ll hope to be able to make a difference and nail down a more regular place in the squad.
What will we learn from Nigeria’s starting lineup?
At this point of the footballing calendar, you would hope to start learning how a manager intends to set up for the World Cup.
However, with clubs arranging a number of international friendlies right up to the week before the competition starts, there will have to be a level of game management at play for the three fixtures.
With their last friendly taking place ten days before their first World Cup fixture, it will be interesting to see how Salisu Yusuf approaches this first match: will he start playing a set team or will he still be willing to experiment?
What to expect at all from DR Congo
With the game bearing little importance in the grand scheme of things, Florent Ibenge has been left somewhat in the lurch by his regular squad members, selecting an experimental squad, many of whom have no caps.
The result could be a nightmare which, although it would be good for Nigeria, would likely not be great for DR Congo’s self-esteem.
Of course, there is a chance that this could furnish the team with some new talent, but that seems more by luck than by judgement at this point.
Prediction: Nigeria 3-0 DR Congo
Given the conditions under which this game is played, it’s impossible to see DR Congo coming out well here.
While 3-0 is perhaps a conservative estimate, there is a sense in which Nigeria will want a gentle warm-up in the run-up to Russia, hoping to avoid risking any injuries at this late stage.
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