By Albert Akota
Leaders Nigeria insist they will go for the three points when they come face to face with neighbours Benin Republic in Porto Novo on Saturday, in one of the Day 5 games of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualification series.
With three –pointer Sierra Leone scheduled to commence hostilities with bottom –placed Lesotho at 3pm GMT, and Nigeria and Benin due to kick off at 6pm GMT, it means the match in southern Africa would have ended before the group leaders take to the pitch of Stade Charles de Gaulle in west Africa.
A draw in Maseru sends Nigeria through to the finals in Cameroon, but the armada of Europe –based actors that Nigeria has again assembled say they are not interested in the encounter in Maseru and would rather concentrate on achieving a double over the Squirrels.
“We are not looking at what happens in Lesotho,” said Captain Ahmed Musa. “It is not necessary for us to bother ourselves with what they play. Our focus is to get the three points in Porto Novo and wrap up qualification. Three points will get us to Cameroon no matter what anyone plays, and that is what we are determined to get.”
In the earlier fixture between both teams, in November 2019, the Squirrels shocked the Eagles with a goal inside the first five minutes at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo, before goals by Victor Osimhen (from six yards after defender Olaoluwa Aina was upended in the box) and Samuel Kalu (after a solo run) earned the Eagles all the points at stake.
Nigeria followed up with a 4-2 defeat of Lesotho in Maseru four days later to fly to the top of the pool, but draws in their home-and-away duels with Sierra Leone a year later (the long interlude as a result of the coronavirus pandemic) prolonged celebrations of qualification and drew the sharp angle of fans’ tongues.
While the team appears to have overcome that experience and looked sharp and ready for battle in their training sessions in Lagos this week, Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr has talked of the importance of rediscovering winning mentality to go into the FIFA World Cup qualifying battles with both wings in rude shape.
“I am keen for the winning mentality; we need it very much and when we rediscover it, we must keep it.”
The Nigeria Football Federation has confirmed that the Eagles contingent will travel from Lagos by waterways to Porto Novo on Friday morning, where they will disembark and head to Cotonou by road to stay the night. The team moves to Porto Novo on Saturday morning and returns to Cotonou after the match.
On Wednesday, President of the Nigeria Football Federation and FIFA Council Member, Amaju Melvin Pinnick, assured that the team is happy to travel to Benin Republic by the waterways as Lagos State, where the contingent is camped this time, “is the State of Aquatic Splendour.”
He praised Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu for his many youth development schemes that are changing the face of Lagos State.
“I believe the Eagles will not only win in Porto Novo, they will come back and beat Lesotho and still play many more matches in Lagos going forward.”
Qualification will guarantee Nigeria’s 19th appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations, having won three times, secured second spot (silver) four times and finished third (bronze) eight times in 18 previous participations.