Super Eagles look to nick AFCON ticket with matches to spare
By; AYO OJEDOKUN, Lagos
They have become used to this trend of things under Franco-German trainer, Gernot Rohr in his four years and four months so far: earning tickets to major tournaments with matches to spare. And that is what the Super Eagles aim to continue in this international fixtures-corridor when they confront the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone in a quickfire double Africa Cup of Nations qualifying series in Benin City and Freetown.
By lunch time on Wednesday, all 23 invited players had arrived at the Eagles’ Eterno Hotel and Suites abode in Benin City, just before Sierra Leone’s 43-man contingent flew into town. The Leone Stars’ delegation had flown into Lagos aboard an ASKY airline flight from Frreetown, before being lifted by a chartered flight to the Edo State capital.
Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr, who superintended Nigeria’s qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals with a match to spare from a hard-as-nails pool that included Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia, and also led the Eagles to earn a 2019 AFCON ticket ahead of the final day of the qualifiers, said on Wednesday that he is expecting his wards to conform to style and taste.
“We do not in any way under-rate the Sierra Leoneans that we play over two legs within these four days, but we have our focus and objective for the matches. We want to win both games so we can have the ticket and be able to be little more relaxed for the final games. You know that next year, we also have the World Cup qualifiers to focus on. It is better to get the AFCON job behind us now.
“I am excited by the spirit of the players and their sense of dedication and commitment. We have not played a competitive match in a year, but they look very ready and good to go. Our mission is the six points in these two matches.”
With the maximum six points from their first two matches of the campaign, three ahead of second-placed Benin Republic who square up to Lesotho, the Eagles will be sure of a spot in the Draw for the finals in Cameroon if they earn all the points at stake against the Leone Stars.
A year ago, at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo, the Eagles survived a scare as the Squirrels from Benin Republic scored to take the lead inside five minutes of kick off. Victor Osimhen levelled from the spot just before half time and winger Samuel Kalu slotted in the winner off a solo effort in the second period.
Days later, the Eagles again fell behind against Lesotho’s Crocodiles in Maseru, before goals by Alex Iwobi and Samuel Chukwueze, and a brace by Osimhen put daylight between the Eagles and their hosts.
Captain Ahmed Musa and his deputy, William Ekong sang similar tunes as Coach Rohr in previewing the two encounters with the Leone Stars, saying the players are hungry for victory in both games as they want to assure an early spot in Cameroon.
The Leone Stars’ delegation is staying at the Lushville Hotel. After losing one and drawing the other in their first two matches of the qualification series, Coach John Keister and wards will look to make life difficult for the Super Eagles at a massively –upgraded Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium on Friday evening. But the Leone Stars have not had the upper hand against Nigeria since beating the Eagles in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match in Freetown 19 years ago.
Super Eagles’ players and officials undertook the mandatory COVID-19 tests on Wednesday, with the results expected on Thursday.
Kenyan official Peter Waweru Kamaku will be the referee, with his compatriots Gilbert Kipkoech Cheruiyot (assistant referee 1), Tony Mudanyi Kidiya (assistant referee 2) and Anthony Juma Ogwayo (fourth official) also on duty. Solomon Gebreselassie Abebe from Ethiopia will be match commissioner while Attama Ibrahim Boureima from Niger Republic will be referee assessor.
After Friday’s encounter, the Super Eagles will fly to Freetown on Monday for Tuesday’s clash with the Leone Stars at the Siaka Stevens Stadium.