Mikel: We Are Ready for Zambia Challenge

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*Eagles to fly into Ndola Saturday to improve head-to-head against Chipolopolo
Duro Ikhazuagbe
Super Eagles Captain, John Mikel Obi, reassured Nigerians yesterday that the team is ready for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification battle against Zambia’s Chipolopolo.

“We are all looking forward to the qualifying matches, starting with Sunday’s game in Zambia. Each and every one of us knows what it means – big battles that we have to win. We are ready for the challenge,” stressed the Chelsea FC player as Eagles round up preparations for the trip to take on Zambia on Sunday, October 9. Algeria’s Desert Foxes are Eagles next opponents on November 12 before four more matches in the qualification series next year.

Mikel is unfazed by Zambia skipper, Rainford Kalaba’s boasts of the Chipolopolo picking all three points at stake in the Russia 2018 qualification opener.

“Our target is to make the party to the World Cup in Russia. We cannot afford to be complacent. That is why this first game against Zambia, just like all the other matches mean so much to us (players),” stre.ssed Mikel who defied all odds to lead Nigeria’s Under-23 team to Olympic bronze medal in Brazil last August

With superior head-to-head against the Chipolopolo, Eagles are committed to improving Nigeria’s superior record against Zambia at senior international level, Nigeria has won six of 16 previous matches with Zambia at international level, drawing five and losing five.

Zambia walloped Nigeria 5-1 in the first-ever encounter, a 1974 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match in Lusaka on July 15, 1973. Nigeria’s 3-2 win in the return leg in Lagos two weeks later was of no effect.

Both teams battled to a 0-0 draw in Accra at the 1978 Cup of Nations, but Zambia then gained two successive 3-0 wins over Nigeria – a friendly in Lusaka in 1981 and a group phase clash at the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations in Libya.

However, the Zambians have not beaten the Eagles in a competitive match in the past 31 years.
Nigeria edged a memorable Africa Cup of Nations final in Tunis in 1994, and then prevailed over the Zambians 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the quarter-finals of the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. None of the 16 previous clashes was a World Cup qualifying match.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian delegation to Zambia will depart from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja on Saturday.
NFF officials confirmed yesterday that the team will arrive in time for an evening training session at the Levy Nwanawasa Stadium in Ndola.

Apart from the 23 players and 15 team officials that will be on the flight, there will be some top officials of the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports, some members of the National Assembly, few members of the NFF Executive Committee and Management, some NFF staff and some stakeholders including media representatives.

“We have allocated slots to some stakeholders because it is a chartered flight and a number of seats are available after the players and team officials have taken their seats.

“The NFF is not paying anybody for being on the trip. We don’t have the money. All the stakeholders on the trip will be there simply to support the team during the game. We have told the persons involved that they will pay for their own board and lodging, and they have accepted to do that,” said NFF 2nd Vice President, Shehu Dikko.

Dikko, who is also chairman of the League Management Company, further stressed: “In the near future, we would look at the possibility of commercialising this kind of opportunity. If you give out, say 80 seats, to persons who can pay for them on 145-seater aircraft, you can raise some good money for the team. It is a practice firmly in place in some climes.”

FOR THE RECORD
15 July 1973: Zambia 5 Nigeria 1 (Lusaka, AFCON Qualifier)
29 July 1973: Nigeria 3 Zambia 2 (Lagos, AFCON Qualifier)
10 March 1978: Zambia 0 Nigeria 0 (Accra, Africa Cup of Nations)
25 July 1981: Zambia 3 Nigeria 0 (Lusaka, International friendly)
13 March 1982: Nigeria 0 Zambia 3 (Benghazi, AFCON)
10 August 1985: Nigeria 0 Zambia 0 (Lagos, AFCON Qualifier)
18 August 1985: Zambia 1 Nigeria 0 (Lusaka, AFCON Qualifier)
12 March 1990: Nigeria 2 Zambia 0 (Annaba, AFCON)
10 April 1994: Nigeria 2 Zambia 1 (Tunis, AFCON final)
15 December 1997: Zambia 2 Nigeria 0 (Lusaka, International friendly)
17 December 1997: Zambia 0 Nigeria 0 (Kitwe, International friendly)
13 January 2001: Nigeria 1 Zambia 0 (Lagos, AFCON Qualifier)
24 March 2001: Zambia 1 Nigeria 1 (Chingola, AFCON Qualifier)
25 January 2010: Zambia 0 Nigeria 0 (Lubango, AFCON. Nigeria won 5-4 on penalties)
15 November 2011: Nigeria 2 Zambia 0 (Kaduna, International friendly)
25 January 2013: Zambia 1 Nigeria 1 (Nelspruit, AFCON)