With just three weeks to the big clash between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Squirrels of Benin in a 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Porto-Novo on March 27, there are growing fears that the team may fail to fly due to certain circumstances.
Nigeria are currently top of Group L on 8 points while Benin sit second on 7 points, with the big game set to decide the fate of the two neighboring teams.
On paper, the three-time AFCON champions look likely to pick the maximum points based on the array of players at their disposal. However, football is not mathematics any longer considering the fact that the game will be decided on the field of play.
The last time both teams clashed, Nigeria had to come back from a goal down to claim a 2-1 victory over the Squirrels of Benin. A meeting between them has always been a tough encounter that often demands a moment of genius to win the game.
Interestingly, Super Eagles’ last two games in the qualifying series have not been worthwhile because the team failed to protect a 4 goal lead to draw 4-4 against Sierra Leone at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin City. The reverse fixture also ended in a draw as the star-studded Nigerian team failed to shine against a Lone Star team.
With qualification yet to be ascertained, Nigeria may flatter against a Beninous side also blessed with some foreign players. Benin is eager to avenge the defeat against the Super Eagles and also boost their hopes of securing a spot in next year’s tournament in Cameroon. A win for Benin will see them overtake Nigeria and qualify for Cameroon 2022 with a game to spare.
Former Huddersfield striker Steve Mounie and Aston Villa star Rudy Gestede, who currently plies his trade with Stade Brest and Melbourne, while Arminia Bielefeld’s Cebio Soukou are some of the key stars in the squad.
One key factor that may count against the Super Eagles is the plan by the Nigeria Football Federation to travel by boat to face Benin when the team can basically take a flight down to neighbouring country. It is one of the big risks NFF is trying to take and it could boomerang.
Again, there is a big risk traveling by boat considering the nature of insecurity in West Africa. Recall that prior to the 2010 AFCON showpiece, the Togolese national team pulled out of the African Nations Cup after at least two people were killed in a rebel ambush on its squad’s convoy, despite Angola’s efforts to allay security concerns ahead of kick-off.
The Amaju Pinnick-led NFF should have learnt from this lesson and travel the team by flight to avoid any regrettable stories.
More so, fatigue may be another issue the team may encounter and Benin could capitalize on it if the NFF decides to go ahead with their plan to travel by boat. Most of Nigeria’s foreign-based players are not used to travelling by boat and it is a great concern if they decide to ignore the warning call.
By and large, the Gernot Rohr’s Super Eagles team possesses what it takes to beat the Squirrels of Benin in Porto-Novo, however, if NFF opts to travel the team by boat, then Nigerians should prepare for the worst.
By Augustine Akhilomen