Benin vs Nigeria
The Super Eagles square off with the Squirrels on Saturday evening as the West African giants look to secure Africa Cup of Nations qualification in style.
As has become the norm, perhaps, for Gernot Rohr’s side, it hasn’t been an entirely smooth build-up to the tournament, but the Eagles are nonetheless in fine fettle ahead of this blockbuster meeting.
Despite the wealth of Nigerian talent available to Rohr ahead of this showdown, it wasn’t entirely plain sailing for the Super Eagles as they looked to pick their squad for their Nations Cup qualifiers.
France-based players were initially barred from representing the national side, while there were also concerns about the availability of other players in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Samuel Kalu was one of the players to have been cut from the initial side, opening the door to in-form Paul Onuachu, while Ahmed Musa’s inclusion raised a few eyebrows due to the fact that he has been without a club since 2020.
One of the main talking points on this week’s African Football HQ podcast was the configuration of Rohr’s attacking unit.
Victor Osimhen is the German coach’s first choice forward, but considering the recent form of Kelechi Iheanacho with Leicester City, how could he not be included?
The Foxes frontman has had a hand in 10 goals in his last nine games, and he’s looked a lethal presence during that period.Backpage Pix
A few eyebrows were raised by the Nigeria Football Federation’s decision to send the squad to Benin by speedboat.
Admittedly, the distance isn’t particularly far, but ahead of the trip—which ultimately went smoothly—several players raised concerns about the decision, with the likes of Henry Onyekuru and Joe Aribo revealing that they had never travelled by sea before.
Largely, the decision was received positively—even if it was an unwanted distraction—but will it have an impact on Nigeria’s performance
Goal’s Taiye Taiwo had a go at predicting the Eagles’ starting XI ahead of the clash, with one of the big decisions to emerge being whether Nigeria opt for a back three or not.
Taiwo wanted Rohr to go for this option, with a back three of Semi Ajayi, William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun giving stability for Ola Aina and Zaidu Sanusi to bomb forward.
However, this means that Nigeria must make compromises further up the pitch, and could this risk leaving the West Africans short as they chase qualification.
The Eagles failed to win a single match during 2020, taking three draws and one defeat from their four international fixtures.
In particular, their double header against Sierra Leone was disappointing, with the West African giants letting a four-goal lead slip at home before being held to a 0-0 draw away from home.
It would take something remarkable for Nigeria to miss out on qualification, but as Ed Dove argued ahead of the fixture, the Eagles must aim higher than just reaching Cameroon.
Fans need not only qualification, but they demand a convincing international window from the Eagle