After going down 0-2 in their first game against South Africa, which was Super Eagles’ first loss to Bafana Bafana in a competitive game, Nigeria would be looking to be back to contention for the 2019 AFCON qualification as they square up against Seychelles today in a must win game to put Nigeria’s qualification hope back on track
When the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier draws were made and Nigeria was drawn in Group E alongside Libya, South Africa and Seychelles many football fans in the country were optimistic that with the caliber of players in the Super Eagles fold, picking the ticket to the AFCON party slated for Cameroon should not pose much problem this time around after missing out of the last two editions.
In Nigeria first group game against South Africa-a side that was yet to beat Nigeria in a competitive game before then, at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo,(a venue which was until then a fortress for the Super Eagles), optimism was high on the part of the host.
However, it was not to be as two second half goals from Tokelo Rantie and Percy Tau were enough to earn the South Africans all three points, in spite of coach Gernot Rohr fielding a strong side that includes Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo among other stars.
Inspite of the loss to South Africa,
Minister of Youths and Sports, Solomon Dalung is optimistic of Eagles qualification.
“This is a temporary setback which is surmountable. We need to sit with the technical committee and the team’s technical crew to find out the immediate and remote causes of this setback,” Dalung said.
“The Super Eagles will definitely be in Cameroon because we can’t afford to be absent at the AFCON for a third consecutive time. We will ensure that no stone is left unturned in our pursuit of a ticket to Cameroon,” he added.
Interestingly, Seychelles head coach, Gavin Jeanne, believes his side can cause a big upset by beating the Super Eagles.
The Pirates occupy bottom place in Group E of the AFCON 2029 qualifiers after going down 5-1 to Libya in June last year and they face another huge test against the Super Eagles who parade some of the best players on the continent.
But Jeanne says that the Pirates are fully ready for the match which he describes as the biggest in the history of the country’s national football team.
“Yes, we are very ready and positive about our chances against Nigeria,” Jeanne told reporters in Victoria.
“We have prepared well and I hope the players maintain their focus and stick to the plan. We have enjoyed a good build-up to the game. It’s our biggest football match in history. We have tested ourselves enough from our participation it the Cosafa Cup till now. I hope it goes well and we make a positive impact.”
Meanwhile, 1st Vice President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Seyi Akinwunmi has assured Nigerian football enthusiasts, that the Super Eagles will return with three points against Seychelles.
Akinwumi is optimistic that the Eagles will revive their qualification chances, saying that most of the national teams players were in fine form and this would give them an edge over the Seychelles.
“We are delighted that our players are enjoying regular game minutes it will aid their fitness and put them in the right frame of mind to face any hurdle. This will go a long way in helping the Super Eagles win the game against Seychelles. It will afford the technical crew to have fit and active players in camp. I believe that we have the machinery and tools to come out victorious at Roche Caiman,” Akinwumi said.
Speaking in the same vien, Udinese defender, William Ekong is confident the Super Eagles can qualify for the 2019 African Cup of Nations in Cameroon if they perform at their optimal level with five games left to play in group E.
Ekong told the Thenff.com in an interview that the disappointment of not qualifying for the second round at the 2018 FIFA World Cup will spur the team to qualify for the 2019 AFCON.
“I think we have demonstrated now that when Nigeria plays at its best there aren’t many teams we have to fear,” Ekong toldthenff.com.
“But it will be a hard job in the next two months and I know the boys and staffs are taking these games very serious. But of course, I believe if we perform at our optimum, we will garner the points from the remaining matches and qualify for the final tournament.”
“It was hard for all of us not to make progress from the group stage at the World Cup. But I still look back with pride about the team because our outing in Russia has definitely made us hungrier to qualify for the 2019 AFCON and to go all the way there.”
However, Rohr has stated that he and his players are in Seychelles for serious business. After one hour training session on Thursday, attended by all 21 players available for the match, the Franco-German tactician told thenff.com that players and officials are very much aware of the crucial nature of today’s game.
“Everyone realizes the importance of this match. We are currently number three in our group and that position does not befit Super Eagles of Nigeria. It is not good for us because it is outside the qualification range. The players know this. They know that they have to show character to put our campaign back on track with a good result.”
Seychelles is a leading tourist destination with plane –loads of fun seekers trooping in on daily basis to spend good time relaxing on any of the major islands in the 115 islands that make up the archipelago. But Rohr made it clear his boys are not vacationers looking for relaxation.
“We are not here on vacation. We are here for serious business. We have a young, ambitious team and Nigeria has a better pedigree in the game of football than Seychelles. But we must not underrate them in any way or take things for granted.
“The World Cup is behind us now, but we must allow the lessons we learnt in Russia to make us better and more efficient in our approach. The Cup of Nations is the focus now and we must get a good result today to get our campaign back, and then we can now look ahead with determination to win the remaining matches in our group to qualify easily for the championship.”
To prove their seriousness about the match, the players have arrived in camp early, as at Tuesday 18 players had already reported to camp.
The camp of Nigeria’s Super Eagles came very much alive in Victoria, Mahé Island in Seychelles following the arrival of six more players on Tuesday afternoon, which brought the number of players at the team’s Savoy Hotel Resort and Spa to 18.
By Tuesday morning, there were 12 players in all: Henry Onyekuru, Kenneth Omeruo, Francis Uzoho, Semi Ajayi, Samuel Kalu, Wilfred Ndidi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Chidozie Awaziem, Kelechi Nwakali, Bryan Idowu, Simeon Nwankwo and Joel Obi.
In the afternoon, Saudi Arabia -based Ahmed Musa, alongside Turkey –based Ogenyi Onazi, China -based Odion Ighalo, Germany–based Jamilu Collins and the England–based duo of Oghenekaro Etebo and Leon Balogun arrived camp and joined the team for lunch.