Stephen Keshi's boys are once again on the precipice of qualifying for the Nations Cup just like it was last year and are under pressure to deliver the ticket as the nation watches
Oboabona, Egwueke, Ambrose, Oshaniwa
Musa, J Obi, Mikel, Moses
I. Uche, Emenike
Grimes, Gebro, Dixon, Gerhardt
T. Weeks, Keita, Laffor, Krangar, Oliseh
The Nigerian national football team are once again on the precipice of qualifying for the Nations Cup just like it was in October 2011. At that time Samson Siasia was the coach of the team, 12 months on, the coach is now Stephen Keshi but the scenario and the expectations remain the same – qualifying for the Nations Cup.
The Super Eagles must realise that the psyche of the nation will not take missing two consecutive Nations Cup tournaments so they must get a result against Liberia – though they need only a score-less draw to book their ticket to South Africa.
The Eagles have lost the invincibility that served the team so well in the 90s when smaller teams, apologies to the Liberians, would not be seen as obstacles in the pursuit of a qualifying ticket to the Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
But times have changed and pundits are not so sure that the Super Eagles are still as super as their name connotes. But a good victory over Liberia on Saturday will go some small way to returning the super in the Super Eagles.
After getting a credible 2-2 draw in Monrovia in September, the stage is set for the completion of the job – and that is to beat Liberia at the UJ Esuene Stadium on Saturday.
Calabar holds good omens for the team as no Nigerian team of any cadre has lost on that ground. History is always there to be rewritten but these set of players will not want their names to be attached to that unfortunate foot note.
In 13 matches played between the two countries, Liberia have only ever won one with the Super Eagles triumphing eight times. They have shared four draws.
Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi, has largely used the 4-3-3 formation but this should be changed to a 4-4-2, so that the Liberians will not have the time and space to start their attacks from the back.
It only supposes that a player like Emmanuel Emenike or Brown Ideye should be paired with Ikechukwu Uche, who is the current goal scoring talisman of the team.
These two should be supported by Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa, who naturally attack through the wings with a base of Mikel Obi and the energy of Joel Obi or a case of three central midfielders with a winger and Nosa Igiebor can be the third midfielder since he plays box-to-box.
Liberia lost its last friendly encounter against Niger 4-3, and that may have dented the confidence of the team. If the Eagles can get a goal in the first 15 minutes of the encounter in Calabar on Saturday, it might just become plain sailing for the Nigerians.
Lone Stars goalkeeper, Nathaniel Sherman is in a fitness race and his back-up, James Galley did not cover himself in glory in their 4-3 loss to Niger Republic on Tuesday.
But their returning captain Anthony Laffor has said they will not be noticing the crowd on Saturday. “All we need to do in Nigeria is to focus on our game and forget the crowd,” Laffor was quoted by Completesports.
“They will be all out to support their team but Guinea proved to us that Nigeria are no longer invincible at home,” he added.
That Guinea mistake must not be made again though in that match the Eagles needed a clear win but in Saturday’s match, the pressure is less as a scoreless draw qualifies the team for South Africa. But the team should not be set up to get a draw. The Liberians are quite capable of scoring and not to talk of deflections in the 91st minute.
The Eagles will be without Joseph Yobo at the back, though the Eagles captain complained of not being fully adjusted to his partner and had to be replaced in Monrovia. Efe Ambrose has been playing well for Celtic so is the obvious choice to replace Yobo and he should be paired with the brawn of Austin Egwueke in central defence.
Juwon Oshinawa is now in Israel but should still play at left-back while Godfrey Oboabona is in his natural element at right back.
Mikel Obi should revert to the position which is normal for him – just ahead of the central defenders and he can still direct the affairs of the team from that position. His ability to hold on to the ball is better near the defence than near the attack where the strikers need quick releases which Nosa Igiebor can handle – being a box to box midfielder.
Ikechukwu Uche is the natural starter in attack but being the more malleable player than the stronger Emenike, Uche can play the pseudo-number 10 role, being able to see spaces and ability to shoot from distance.
The Liberians will most probably play from back to front, hoping to catch the Eagles’ defenders cold and making a ploy to slow down the game and disrupt the rhythm of the Nigerian team.
In Monrovia, they showed no fear by bringing the game directly to the Eagles and the Eagles were surely hanging on in the end. They will most probably hope to get an early goal and sit on it so that the fans will be quiet and the players panicky.
The pitch of the UJ Esuene Stadium is a much better playing surface than the bumpy ground of the Samuel Doe Stadium and should give the Nigerian team ample chances to play the game they want. All the pointers predict that Nigeria will qualify but like all football fans know, football is not Mathematics.
Brace yourselves for 90 minutes of nailbiting, finer-wringing action.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
The Lone Stars of Liberia have just one victory over the Super Eagles in 13 matches.
Mikel Obi will win his 38th cap for the Eagles for whom he has scored twice.
- Nigeria is ranked 63rd in the world by Fifa compared to Liberia’s 98th place ranking.
Nigeria has won the most bronze medals at the Afcon – seven – 1976, 1978, 1992, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010.
Liberia have qualified twice for the Africa Cup of Nations; in 1996 and 2002.
Emmanuel Emenike will be hoping to score his second goal for the Super Eagles.
Sekou Oliseh, (pictured) scorer of one of Liberia’s goals against the Eagles in September has strong Nigerian links as he is an adopted son of Churchill Oliseh, elder brother to former Eagles captain Sunday Oliseh.