The Flames of Malawi have never beaten the Super Eagles in a competitive match, but ahead of today’s 2014 World Cup encounter in Calabar, the Tom Santief led Malawians have resorted to mind games in a match they needed an outright win, writes KUNLE ADEWALE
The Super Eagles of Nigeria will today take on the Flames of Malawi at the UJ Esuene Stadium, Calabar in the last group H match of the 2014 World Cup qualifier match, in a game the Stephen Keshi led team need only a draw to book a place for the knockout stage of the qualifier, while the Malawians will need an outright win.
In the reverse fixture in June last year in Blantyre, the Flames forced Eagles to 1-1 draw. Nigeria however set the pace in Group F with nine points, followed by Malawi with seven points.
Namibia are on five points, while Kenya are bottom of the standings on three points. Malawi therefore need a win to upstage Nigeria.
As part of their build up to the game, Malawi launched a mind game in which they demanded for a replacement of the centre referee, Hamada Nampiandraza, who they claimed gave a below par performance at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa, while also saying that the venue of the encounter, Calabar, is unsafe and therefore not suitable to stage a match of such magnitude.
According to FAM’s letter to FIFA, “There is security risk in Calabar where the match will be played, as reported by the Commonwealth Commission. The venue of the match is risky to our delegation and we would like FIFA to shift the match to Abuja or to a neutral country where our delegation will be safe,” FAM had demanded.
Indeed, Malawi Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet, who incidentally was appointed Nigeria’s technical director but never got to take up the job because of criticism from many sports analysts took Nigeria to the world football governing body over comments attributed to Stephen Keshi of which FIFA demanded an explanation from Nigeria.
The national team’s preparation has been up tempo with the arrival in camp of top players on Tuesday afternoon as the squad prepares for Saturday’s game against Malawi. The Eagles Transcorp Metropolitan Hotel have been alive since Tuesday afternoon with the arrival of all the top players, something Keshi said he was happy about as he expects a good game against Malawi today.
Cross River State Governor Liyel Imoke has promised that the entire state will be out to support the team, noting that he was sure the team will defeat the Malawians come Saturday.
Imoke, who spoke through sports commissioner, Hon Patrick Ugbe, said: “We have His Excellency’s support and that of the entire people of Cross River and we are sure that the team will not only win but win well.”
The team defied heavy rain in Calabar on Wednesday evening to train and Eagles press officer, Ben Alaiya, said the players are fully committed and ready for the battle ahead. “The players are fully ready for the match, they trained very well with full commitment under heavy rain,” said Alaiya.
In a telephone chat with THISDAY, former Nigerian international, Jonathan Akpoborie said more than winning today’s game the Super Eagles should also send a message to other opponents. “The players should know what is at stake and therefore approach the match with all seriousness. They should not underrate them all.
“Though we need only a draw to qualify, but we should approach the game with the mindset of not only winning, but win convincingly in a way that will serve as a warning signal to our next opponent,” the former Wolfsburg of Germany striker said. “Keshi has invited the best legs for the game and I believe the players are raring to go and one good advantage on the side of Nigeria is that the Malawians are condemned to attack as they cannot afford to sit back and defend, which will give us the opportunity to create chances and score goals,” Akpoborie said.
Meanwhile, Brescia of Italy attacker, Nnamdi Oduamadi has said the Eagles will silence the Malawians today. “We are not underrating them; I know they have been preparing for the game even playing pranks on us. Their coach has been boasting they will come to Nigeria to upset us, that’s just his wish but we are more than ready to silence them. We are taking the game as a cup final. They will have nothing to say by the time we hammer them big time,” he said.
Oduamadi added: “I am not disputing their potential, I am not underrating them, but we deserve some respect. If they think they want to come to Calabar to embarrass us, we are ready to disgrace them and we will prove that on the pitch.”
The Malawians arrived in Calabar on Thursday from Accra, Ghana, and were joined by the Secretary of the Football Association of Malawi (FAM), Suzgo Nyirenda, and the accountant who arrived Nigeria on Monday as an advance party. “On behalf of the Football Association of Malawi, I would like to thank you and the entire Nigeria Football Federation for the warm welcome that you accorded me and my accountant both in Abuja as well as in Calabar,” said Nyirenda.
“We are now in Calabar ,where your director of technical, Emmanuel Ikpeme, gave us a fantastic reception. Thank you for welcoming us at your offices in Abuja and football is a unifying factor and we are indeed brothers. “We were accommodated at Dannic Hotel, which is generally very good. We will inspect the training pitch and the venue of the actual match.”
NFF president Aminu Maigari restated the safety of the visitors in Calabar, while commending the Cross River State Government for their support. “The Government and people of Cross River State deserve nothing but high commendation for their generosity and hospitality. They have continued to be good and great hosts for the Super Eagles and the Golden Eaglets,” Maigari applauded.
“On our part, the NFF have perfected all arrangements to host a hitch-free World Cup qualifying match, and we are assuring the Government and people of Nigeria that our Super Eagles are adequately prepared to achieve victory against Malawi on Saturday,” he assured.
Meanwhile, each Malawian player will receive $500 as bonus if they upset Nigeria today to qualify for the final round of the World Cup qualifiers which is over 500 per cent increase from the usual $85 dollars winning bonus The Flames normally receive.
Saintfiet disclosed on arrival in Abuja on Thursday: “My boys would be going home with a winning bonus of $500 compared to the $85 they received before. I don’t think the motivation for the players is the money but national pride. I am surprised when I hear that players of your Super Eagles are discussing money and winning bonus.”
Saintfiet said he remains bullish about his team’s chances today in Calabar despite the 1-0 loss they suffered in their final warm-up game “We made many changes in that game and really we are not worried about that result,” he said.
“I’m focused on winning this match even though there was no cash for a training camp. We work with what we have going by our financial limits, but I believe we will be ready for the match on Saturday.”
Nigeria are yet to lose to Malawi at full international level as the Eagles have claimed victories four times from previous meetings.