AFCON 2021 QUALIFIER
As Super Eagles file out this evening against Squirrels of Benin Republic in the opening game of their 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying series at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, Gernot Rohr and his wards will be aiming for a perfect start to their campaign.
Last term, Nigeria had smooth ride, qualifying for AFCON 2019 with a game to spare.
Now, with a team brimming with youngsters hungry to express themselves after distinguishing at club level, Eagles will have no choice but start this journey at home on a good note.
One of the star players to look out for today is Victor Osimhen who emerged from Nigeria’s post-AFCON 2019 success.
The Lille forward has scored nine goals in 17 appearances for the French club across all competitions this season.
Also expected to be a thorn in the Squirrels’ defence will be Samuel Chukwueze of Villarreal in the Spanish Laliga.
The exciting lad has continued to confound watchers of the Laliga with his incredible display of talents.
No doubt, Nigeria will be overriding favourites to progress as Group L winners, as Eagles set their sights on qualifying for Cameroon a few months after finishing third at the 2019 AFCON showpiece hosted in Egypt.
In Rohr’s squad at the Uyo camp are others like returnee Ahmed Musa, Kenneth Omeruo, Ola Aina, Samuel Kalu and Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi.
On the other hand, the visitors from neighbouring Benin should not be underrated. The Squirrel will be no pushovers, though, having proved their potential in reaching the quarterfinal stage at AFCON 2019.
The Squirrels have been able to keep the core of that team with the experienced Stephan Sessegnon spearheading their charge.
Irrespective of the ranking of Eagles as third on the African continent in the latest FIFA rankings (35th in the world) while Benin are placed 18th in Africa (82nd in the world), this evening will be full of fireworks at the Nest of Champions in Uyo.
The 66-year-old Franco-German, though, has expressed his
Rohr’s concern regarding the quick turnaround time between this month’s double headed qualifier with Nigeria to face Lesotho in Maseru four days after this clash in Uyo should be no excuse for Eagles to bungle this opening round home game.
“Our players from Europe will only get to us a day or two before the first game, so there is no time to adapt to the African conditions,” Rohr had complained when the fixtures were released.
“After this game on Wednesday we travel to Lesotho away on Friday to play on an artificial surface on Sunday. This is not ideal for any team.
“We’ve spoken to CAF about this but nothing has been done,” he concluded.
Apart from claiming bronze in Egypt, Nigeria showcased her powers with encouraging displays in recently friendly internationals against Ukraine and Brazil respectively.