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Nigeria vs Benin: Where will the game be won and lost?

01:02 GMT 13/11/2019
Nigeria celebrate, Super Eagles
The Super Eagles are looking to begin Africa Cup of Nations qualifying on a high, but their West African neighbours are aiming for a shock result

Nigeria play host to West African neighbours Benin seeking to start their Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign off to a flyer at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo on Wednesday.

Both sides were drawn in Group L alongside Lesotho and Sierra Leone, and with the latter pair set to face off in Freetown on Wednesday evening, the Super Eagles, as well as the Squirrels will be out to start on a high.

So what could decide the meeting between these neighbouring countries?

For Nigeria, just when they seemed to be getting a bit of stability in goal, as Francis Uzoho started showing just why Gernot Rohr rates him highly, an unfortunate injury struck against Brazil. The Omonia shot-stopper ruptured ligaments in his knee, ruling him out for at least six months and surely out of Wednesday’s game.

While it’s left the position wide open for the trio of Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Danial Akpeyi and Maduka Okoye, who made his debut against the Selecao in October, the uncertainty that surrounds the more experienced pair is worrying.

They’ve never really convinced in goal, with the Gernot Rohr opting for them largely after being on the receiving end of so much pressure over Uzoho’s performances. Akpeyi, impressive recently for Kaizer Chiefs, got the nod at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt but was dropped for friendlies against Ukraine and Brazil, with Uzoho returning.

It remains to be seen if Gernot Rohr opts for Okoye, who played decently after replacing Uzoho in last month’s 1-1 stalemate, but the Fortuna Dusseldorf goalie was introduced with both sides starting to tire, so wasn’t as tested as established.

Michel Dussuyer’s side will seek to take advantage of any whiff of uncertainty in the Nigeria goal.

The Super Eagles defence, with Udinese’s William Troost-Ekong marshalling it, will try to protect anyone Rohr opts for between the sticks. The German coach has Leganes duo Kenneth Omeruo and Chidozie Awaziem as well as West Bromwich Albion’s Semi Ajayi competing to partner the skipper at the heart of the defence.

While that honour went to Omeruo at Afcon, Ajayi has done well in that position in recent friendlies, prompting a rise in stock with Nigerians who initially doubted Rohr’s faith in him. The pair of Troost-Ekong and the former Rotherham United defender held their own against Tite’s men last month, and the German may look to keep that thriving partnership.

Ola Aina is likely to play at right-back, while Jamilu Collins is expected to feature on the left.

Benin will have it all to do if they are to break down the Super Eagles defence who rarely concede on home soil.

Midfield, probably Nigeria’s strongest position, is expected to feature in-form Leicester City man Wilfred Ndidi and thriving Joe Aribo. The former takes no prisoners in the middle of the park, which is complemented by the panache of his Glasgow Rangers compatriot, who has scored a goal apiece in his first two international games against Ukraine and Brazil.

In front of them will be Alex Iwobi, who carries most of the creative burden for the three-time African champions. He intermittently switches positions with Aribo, one tactical curveball that could surprise Benin.

The attack is likely to be led by Victor Osimhen, the Lille frontman who has netted seven times in 13 Ligue 1 games. He may have gone off the boil slightly in the last few weeks but is still a handful on his day, and the threat he possesses in the box can’t be ignored.

The 20-year-old ought to be flanked by Samuel Chukwueze and one of Ahmed Musa, Samuel Kalu and Moses Simon, depending on Rohr’s choice. The trio possess the skill, directness and goalscoring threat to worry the Squirrels.

Stephane Sessegnon is Benin’s biggest threat, a fact underlined by his 23 goals in 80 international appearances, the highest return in the national team's history.

Also capable of hurting the Super Eagles are the pair of Mickael Pote and Steve Mounie. The former scored no less than four times at Afcon, while the Huddersfield Town frontman is Dussuyer’s top striker, and the threat he carries in the air could hurt the home side.

Benin have had their scoring boots on lately too, with two goals coming in two of their last three friendlies, against Ivory Coast and Zambia. They did fire blanks against African champions Algeria in September, but that shouldn’t trouble Dussuyer too much.

However, the Squirrels are winless against Nigeria in 12 meetings, with the three-time African champions winning 10, as well as the last five.

Will Benin finally get one over their neighbours on Wednesday?