By Abdulmueez Alao:
Super Eagles have a lot to play for when the face the Pirates of Seychelles in Saturday’s 2019 AFCON qualifying match in Victoria.
For a side which was one of the five teams that represented Africa at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, you would expect that qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations would be a walk in the park.
But it seems not to be the case as the three-time African champions currently lie in third place behind Libya and South Africa in Group E of the AFCON 2019 qualifying campaign having lost their first qualifying match at home to South Africa in June last year.
The Super Eagles now face the Pirates of Seychelles on Saturday with the hope of bagging all three points and getting their campaign back on track and avoid being ousted from the Africa Cup of Nations finals for the third time in a row.
Both Nigeria and Seychelles lost their opening matches to South Africa and Libya respectively, and both teams will be looking to bounce back with a win in Victoria.
The Super Eagles will be playing her first competitive match since the recently concluded 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia where they got knocked out in the group stages of the elite tournament.
Seychelles who are no.188 in the latest FIFA World Ranking will be looking to confound favourites Nigeria with impressive performance in front of their home crowd at the 10,000-capacity Stade Linite on Mahe Island in Victoria after they were humiliated 5-1 by Libya in their first qualifying match.
Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr initially released a squad list of 24 players for the match, but that was later depleted by the withdrawal of William Troost-Ekong, Alex Iwobi and Ola Aina over injuries and ill-health.
Captain Mikel Obi had sought his exclusion from the squad to enable him concentrate on helping his embattled Chinese Super League side, Tianjin Teda. Victor Moses who recently called time on his international career was not available for selection.
Rohr however says no cause for alarm as he has great talents among the 20 players who eventually arrived in Victoria for the crucial match, and can fill any void in the team that will face Seychelles. The confident coach also discarded the idea of bringing in the trio of Musa Mohammed, Blessing Eleke and Stephen Eze who were placed on standby when the squad list was announced.
The Franco-German also included new faces such as Jamilu Collins, Kelechi Nwakali, Samuel Kalu and a few others who would not only be looking to help secure a win for the team, but to also become mainstays in the Super Eagles.
The Eagles are aware of their recent past failures of not qualifying for two consecutive Africa Cup of Nations finals, and that only an outright win against Seychelles in Victoria will put them in good stead of booking a spot at Cameroon 2019.
The kickoff on Saturday is 4.30pm local time, 1.30pm Nigerian time.