Today in Porto Novo, the Super Eagles will have their hands full when they confront the Squirrels of Benin in a 2022 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. It is a match the two sides have been looking forward to with the hope of ceiling their qualification for the African showpiece billed for Cameroon.
The Super Eagles currently top the group with 8 points, while Benin closely follows with 7 points from the same number of matches. In today’s encounter, draw or win would earn the Super Eagles a ticket to the tournament but if they succumb to the Squirrels, then they would have to fight to the last qualification match against Lesotho in Lagos three days later.
Nigeria and Benin have benefited from the relaxation of Covid-19 protocols for players who honoured their national call.
As a result coach Gernot Rohr and his Beninois counterpart have their complete squads with the full complement of their Europe based stars. Indeed, there should be no excuse for any poor performance by both gaffers in today’s encounter.
The Super Eagles have been talking tough and Sports was at their Eko Hotel camp where we spoke with some of the players before they travelled to Benin. Ahmed Musa: We’re going for a win Captain of the Super Eagles, Ahmed Musa was one man many did not expect to find in the squad.
He has been clubless since late last year when he parted ways with Saudi club Al Nassr. His invitation sparked a lot of criticism from analysts who felt he had no place in the team. But coach Rohr stood his ground and said Musa was a non-playing captain. He is providing much-needed leadership and Rohr is satisfied with what Musa has been doing in camp.
He also spoke with Sports Vanguard. A win or a draw is enough to see the Super Eagles in AFCON, what are you going for? We know the importance of the game, we know that if we draw we are going to qualify, but we are going for a win. We know too what the fans need is a win and we are going for a win. You are coming to play in Lagos again after a long while.
What will you tell the others who have not played in Lagos before?
I will tell the players how crazy Lagos fans can be. I know most of them know about it because they have been watching a lot of old tapes of the Super Eagles in Lagos.
They know a lot about the psychology of Lagos fans. Iwobi: Expect a tough match “We expect that we are going to work hard, play hard to qualify. That is our target. Aware that the Eagles are looking for just one point to earn a ticket to the AFCON, Iwobi said aiming at just a point could be dangerous.
The aim is to win every game. Another is we want to qualify, so whatever we do to qualify, that is what we will do.” When told that the Squirrels of Benin were boasting that the Super Eagles couldn’t stand in their way to Cameroon 2022, the Everton star said, “of course I don’t blame them. Everyone that plays a game wants to win, it’s their right to qualify.
So they want it as bad as we want to qualify.
It’s not going to be an easy game.” Beyond qualification, what is your target for the tournament proper? “
We would like to stay humble and grounded and we want to take it, game by game. Once we qualify, then we take it up from there.” Iwobi was reminded of the resilience of the Beninois who proved a handful in the first leg in Nigeria after they scored first. Although they ended up 2-1 losers.
Now that the Eagles are going to their own turf, what is going to happen? “Of course, they will be playing at home,” he said, adding, “they will have the home advantage but like I said, it is not going to be an easy game. We are going there to win, it’s going to be competitive, it’s going to be a battle of wits but we are determined to do well.” He also spared some seconds to discuss his club form. Everton have been outstanding this season. However, of late, it has been a case of fluctuating fortunes.
What is responsible for the slip?
“It’s not just us,” he said. “The season has been very unpredictable. Our target is to play in Europe and that is what we are working towards. “There are lots of strong teams, one needs to be consistent and we are aiming to do just that. After the international break, all we need is to push on and secure more points, enough to see us play in Europe.”
Joe Aribo: We’ll make it impossible for them to play Joe Aribo is one of the players coach Gernot Rohr will draft to the midfield as a bridge between the attack and the defence. He will also be expected to scuttle the foraging moves of the Squirrels in the middle. What should Nigerians expect from the Super Eagles going to the Nations Cup in Cameroon? He sounded businesslike. To him, the question was too presumptuous.
“We are just going to work hard and qualify, after that we can plan for Cameroon.” Benin Republic is between you and qualification for AFCON 2022.
How would the Eagles handle them on Saturday?
“We need to start fast and make it difficult for them by putting in 100% team effort. We just need to play as a team. They were hot in the first leg as the Eagles came from behind to beat them 2-1. “
Yeah. In that game, we started a bit slow but now we have to start a bit faster, take the game to them and make it harder for them. We can’t afford to let them score first, we must make it harder for them this time,” he said. After Benin come Lesotho.
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Are we expecting a different approach from the Super Eagles?
“When we played them also, we were slow from our side. We know that they are going to come out and attack. We just need to put in everything as a team.” Did you watch the Eagles play when you were young? First I was a fan of the Super Eagles. I was always watching and supporting them Who was your role model in the Super Eagles as you were growing up? Jay-Jay Okocha.
Are you filling the gap he left behind?
No, no, no. His shoes are too big for me. Do you mind taking his shirt?
Yeah. We all know what it means to wear the No 10 shirt for the Super Eagles. Upon that we know how big Okocha’s shoes are to fill. Ola Aina: We want to go to AFCON Ola Aina has been having the best season of his life at Fulham, where he is on loan from Serie A side, Torino.
In England, he finds himself in the midst of four other Nigerians or players of Nigerian extraction namely Ademola Lookman, Josh Maja, Adarabioro and Josh Onoma?
He admits, “I am having a very good feeling indeed as we share the same culture, we understand each other. It’s very natural and enjoyable.”
Has he made any effort at luring the likes of Adarabioyo, Ademola Lookman and Josh Onomah to play for Nigeria?
Said he, “I am not the one to force people to come play for Nigeria because in my situation I was never forced to decide on where to play. “I have spoken to them and told them that this team is a growing team, we have good players and the most important thing is that everybody here has a good soul. I told them if they decide now, we are ready to welcome them. So it’s up to them.
From their body language, could he guess whether they could dump England for Nigeria?
He quipped, “I don’t know. I’m not sure.” On the match between Benin and Nigeria, Aina explained what to expect from the Eagles:
“I expect a good performance.
We all expect high performance from each other. So we are going to this game with full focus and determination to win the game. Your opponents scored first even though they eventually lost to the Super Eagles. Would you allow that happen again in Benin?
Of course not. We wouldn’t. We wouldn’t want to give our opponents any form of advantage. But things happen in football. Should they score first, we will keep calm, as we usually do and we will perform. Do you think Eagles defence can stop the Squirrels?
You just must have the will, the courage and the passion to do well for the nation and that is what we have in abundance throughout the team, so I think we should be okay.
After Benin, you are going to meet Lesotho in Lagos. What do you expect?
Like I said, many things happen in football and all I want to say is that we are working to get the six points. We want the best for the team and for each other so that is the objective and that is what we would try to do. Beyond the qualifiers, what will be the target if we eventually get to Cameroon? We are going there with the mind to win. I, for one would like to win the AFCON.
That is the target and I am sure everybody would say the same thing. Onuachu: We’ve a good squad With 27 goals so far this season for his Belgium club, Genk, Paul Onuachu is the deadliest Nigerian marksman in Europe.
However, despite his prolific scoring ability, it took the withdrawal of some invited players for Gernot Rohr to invite him to the main squad. Now in the squad to take on Benin today, Onuachu also spoke with Sports Vanguard on what should be expected of him if fielded.
“We have a good squad, we have good strikers and when I have the chance to play, I will ensure I put in good effort for the good of the team. This is not a joke, we came here to play to qualify for the Nations Cup, so this is a very important game for the Eagles. People say you are so hot in Europe.
Why don’t you replicate your club form for the national team?
What is the problem?
“There is no problem, I just feel that I just have to sometimes have more access in front of the goal for me to replicate my club form at the national team.
“I am not struggling here, I am feeling good anytime I have the chance to play in the national team. Maybe I have to be lucky to have more chances to score.”
Onyekwuru: We’ll deliver Henry Onyekwuru plays his club football at Galatasaray in Turkey. On loan from Monaco in France. His move to Turkey has been very profitable to the young man whose free-scoring spell so far, has seen him being recalled to the national team by coach Gernot Rohr. Nigeria vs Benin who appeared very difficult in the first leg;
what should we expect from the Eagles this time?
A good performance and most importantly, a win. With the quality of players we have and all the training, I am sure we will deliver and qualify for the Nations Cup. What is your message to Super Eagles fans? We need their support and prayers. Our promise to them is to qualify for the Nations Cup, we won’t disappoint them. Okoye:
There’re no easy games in football What are your thoughts on the Republic of Benin?
It won’t be an easy game because there are no easy games in football. Even if you are 4-0 up, crazy things happen in football. We know a draw can qualify us for the Nations Cup, but our target is the six points. We are going for wins over the Republic of Benin and Lesotho.
Your position in the team is very competitive. Who do you say is the number one?
It depends on the coach. I am going to work hard for the spot, at the end, it is the coach that does the selection. What is your feeling playing for Nigeria? I am very delighted and it is a dream come true to play for this country. I am looking forward to every match.
What is your target?
To get the six points here and have a good start for the World Cup qualifiers. At club level, I want to work and pray we remain in the top division in Holland. Meanwhile, below is the video of how the Super Eagles landed in Benin Republic by cruise for the match. Enjoy: