Super Eagles on the March Again

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New Super Eagles Coach, Gernot Rohr will face his first real test on Sunday as Nigeria begins its quest for a sixth World Cup appearance with an encounter against the Chipolopolo of Zambia at the Levy Nwanawasa Stadium in Ndola for a place in Russia 2018.

Having hoisted its flag in five previous editions of the Mundial-USA ’94, France ’98, Korea/Japan ’02, South Africa ’10 and Brazil ’14, Super Eagles will be campaigning in a group described as ‘Group of Death’, comprising archrivals-Algeria, Cameroun and Zambia, with only one country expected to qualify from the group.

The Super Eagles began training in Abuja on Monday and by Tuesday virtually all the invited players had reported to camp,  making Rohr to be optimistic of victory in Zambia on Sunday. 

“We go to Zambia to win. It will be difficult because Zambia have a good team and like the three other teams in our group, any one of us could qualify for the World Cup. We watched them against Kenya (in an AFCON qualifier last month) and the pitch in Ndola is not good, but it will be the same for both teams,” Rohr said.

Rohr said picking all three points in Ndola remains his side target. “I’m happy with the preparation because most of the players arrived on time and I’m happy we have good training condition. I’m happy to work with a new and young team because we have a lot of younger players here with some local players here too. We are going to Zambia to win the game, though it would be very difficult. All the four teams in the group can hope to be the best. Of course we have a look on the Zambia team because they have good players; we focus on our team and have good preparation and hope everybody work well,” Rohr told media.

Indeed, former Nigerian international, Henry Nwosu, is optimistic that Nigeria is in good shape to take on the Zambians, saying the team is ready for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, just as he advised the coaching crew to work on the team’s attackline.

He said that the players must work on their finishing and ensure that they come out tops in the group.

According to Nwosu, not even Algeria and Cameroon can stop Nigeria if the players show “hunger” during the game.

Former Eagles coach and captain, Christian Chukwu has warned the team to put behind the head-to-head advantage Nigeria enjoyed over Zambia. “We are expecting them to start well, and ensure they do not underrate Zambia, even though we have always beaten them in our previous games, but that’s not enough for us to underrate them, If we give our technical adviser all the support, and encourage the players, we should be able to win our first game against Zambia. These are the boys who want to showcase themselves, I believe they will do what Moses and Success would have done, and I’m happy they were given this opportunity for fight for their shirts in the national team.” Chukwu told Goal.

However, finance could mar the team’s preparation and indeed the trip to Ndola if the claims of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, President, Amaju Pinnick is anything to go by.

After initially refuting claims of financial challenges, Pinnick had told the Senate Committee on sports that the body needs government’s intervention to prosecute the game.

“The draw was done for 20 teams that we qualify for the final phase of the World Cup and Nigeria was drawn against Zambia, Cameroon that has won the Nations Cup and attended the World Cup seven times,” Pinnick said.

“Algeria is the highest- ranked team in Africa. Is a group that goes beyond the group of death. The good news is that we have sound technical crew and a lot of players doing well. But the missing link is our financial incapacitation which activates all we do on and off the field. 

“Before now we have made a request to government for intervention because funds were not coming from our sponsors because it is been very difficult for them so they claimed and so we did not have any choice than to resort to writing to the government. 

“So we are awaiting a response from them and the game is just in five days. We’ve put all arrangement on ground already. 

“We have discussed with Arik to go on a chartered flight and we are also about sending somebody to Ndola because there is a new hotel we have secured in Ndola but we could not pay for it. We have been about to secure about 60 rooms but we could not buy their ticket because we owe our traveling agent about 300 million naira. So there is no way we could get it and we have to request the players to come with economy tickets in reflection of what is happening to our economy and 80 per cent of them obliged our request,” he added.

Meanwhile, Zambian team have been boosted by the return of midfielder Chisamba Lungu.

Chisamba has declined recent Zambia call-ups, including the September 4 home game against Kenya, in the two sides’ final 2017 Africa Cup Group E qualifier that finished 1-1 in Ndola.

The midfielder from Russian Club, FC Ural, joined camp on Tuesday in Ndola and is the eighth of nine foreign-based call-ups in the Zambia team ahead of Sunday’s 2018 World Cup Group B qualifying clash there against Nigeria.

“Chisamba has been a very good player and it came as a surprise to me and to many Zambians when he said that he won’t be coming. So I just had to call him back and told him this is your country. ‘We are all here for national duty so you just have to honour your call, so he said ‘OK, I will come’,” Wedson Nyirenda said.

Zambia captain Rainford Kalaba believes his team can secure qualification to Russia despite being drawn with heavyweights.

“We have a chance to qualify, we still believe in ourselves. Even if we failed to qualify to the Africa Cup of Nations, we don’t have to get distracted; we have to work hard on the field and stay focused and united until we reach our destination in Russia,” he told The Post Zambia.

Speaking in the same vein, Zambia Sports Minister, Moses Mawere, has expressed confidence that the Chipolopolo will beat the Super Eagles in Sunday’s 2018 World Cup qualifier in Ndola, charging the players and coaching crew not to disappoint as expectations from football fans are high, especially after Chipolopolo failed to qualify for next year’s AFCON in Gabon.

“The country’s expectation is high; the only hope is the World Cup after failing to qualify to the Africa Cup of Nations. I challenge the players and coaches to step up and perform better. We need to beat Nigeria, we can do it,” Mawere told Zambia Post.

A win for the Super Eagles would be a morale booster in their attempt to participate in the next World Cup.

Meanwhile, former Super Eagles defender, Taribo West, has warned Rohr and his wards to be wary of tricky Chipolopolo forwards, saying that Zambia’s strength is the ability of its dangerous strike force to rip apart any unsuspecting defence.

“Zambia’s strength is its forward. The boys are fast and dangerous. They may not be as good as the generation that won the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon in 2012, yet, Eagles defence should not go to sleep at any time when we play them this weekend in Ndola,” observed Taribo 

He is however unfazed with the pedigree of the Cooper Bullets’ firepower upfront. He believes that Eagles have the capacity to contain them.

“I am happy with the quality of the boys in the current Eagles. They are young and strong even though they are mostly inexperienced. All they need is the same spirit with which they played Tanzania last month in Uyo,” stressed the ex-international.

He said that it will be disastrous for Nigeria to begin the Russia 2018 qualifiers on a shaking note against Zambia.

“It will be disastrous for Nigeria to begin the qualifiers with a defeat this weekend. After missing the AFCON back-to-back, starting the World Cup on a shaking note will not be good at all. I hope our boys will play Zambia with the same zeal they played the last AFCON 2017 at Uyo,”

Meanwhile, the Zambia Football Federation (ZFF) has elected to lower the gate fees of the match in a bid to ensure full house in the satdium. The FA reportedly announced gate charges as low as 25 Kwacha, less than Nigeria’s Naira, for a section of the popular side and the highest charge of 500 Kwacha for the VIP section. The decision, according to reports is in a bid to fill up the 49,800 capacity Estadio de la Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola, venue of the game and create enough buzz to hopefully intimidate the Super Eagles.

Tickets came on sales on Tuesday afternoon at a couple of centres in Lusaka and Kabwe.