2023 AFCON Qualifiers: Fading Super Eagles Face Leone Stars For A Rebirth
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By Amaechi Agbo
Super Eagles of Nigeria, three-time Africa Champions, will on Thursday, June 9 begin their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON qualifying matches against Sierra Leone’s Leone Stars at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja. Nigeria is paired in Group A along Sao Tome and Principe, Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone
The qualifier would be the 3rd match the Eagles are playing since their 29th match 2022 World Cup fallout in Abuja against the Black Stars of Ghana.
Since that ill-fated clash that saw Ghana pick the 2022 World Cup ticket at the expense of the Super Eagles, the team are yet to rediscover their rhythm again.
With no win in four matches dating back to January 23rd 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON Round of 16 defeat to Tunisia in Cameroon, the team are yet to win any other match including their last two friendly matches against Mexico and Ecuador last month both of which ended in defeats.
The appointment of a Portuguese coach, Jose Peseiro as the technical adviser of the team in May, which received stern criticisms from stakeholders in Nigeria football franternity particularly the media considering the coache’s uninspiring curriculum vitae, the first two matches overseen by the coach, against Mexico and Ecuador, though friendless, ended in defeats. Peseiro thus becomes the first Nigeria coach to start his first match with a defeat.
Mr Peseiro was officially presented to the Minister of youth and sports, Sunday Dare on Wednesday, June 8 2022, less than 24 hours to the crunch 2023 AFCON duel with Sierra Leone.
However, hope is fading among the football enthusiasts as the Super Eagles face Leone Stars of Sierra Leone on Thursday in the first game of the Group A matches in the 2023 AFCON race to be hosted by Ivory Coast next year.
Peseiro’s Appointment, Weak Eagles
The appointment of Mr Jose Peseiro as the Super Eagles Coach by the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF did not inspire hope and optimism. This is because his managerial experience lacked the prerequisites to be considered for such a job.
Moreso, Mr Peseiro is coming in at a time that many Nigerians are still fuming in anger following the team’s failure to qualify for the 2022 World Cup and the attendant lack of character and hunger exhibited by the players in the field of action
Peseiro, appointed after series of interviews with other high profile coaches including former Netherlands star, Philip Cocu, erstwhile Barcelona handler Ernesto Valverde and France 1998 World Cup winner Laurent Blanc, however, unfortunately, with the other three coaches possessing intimidating curriculum vitae, NFF opted for the Portuguese and his first two matches, without a win, has reignited the doubts over his capacity to deliver.
Sierra Leone’s early arrival, past records against Eagles
The Super Eagles would be aiming to begin their 2023 Afcon qualification bid on a winning note against the Leone Stars but it won’t come easy
Nigeria have failed to win any of their last five matches in all competitions – losing three and drawing on two occasions.
Their last victory came on January 19, 2022, when they defeated Guinea Bissau 2-0 in an Africa Cup of Nations encounter inside Roumde Adjia Stadium, Garoua Cameroon.
The Super Eagles’ most recent outing was an international friendly against Ecuador, which ended in a 1-0 defeat.
This stat could be a worry as they continue preparations for Thursday’s fixture against John Keister’s side.
The Super Eagles and the Leone Stars met twice in 2020 during the 2021 AFCON qualifiers and both games failed to produce a winner. The first leg on November 13 saw the Leone Stars came from 4-0 down to snatch a point in the final whistle with the spoils shared at 4-4. Lackadaisical Eagles fumbled at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, Edo State South-South Nigeria.
The return leg in Freetown, on November 17, saw a rather inspid game as the match ended in a drab scoreless affair.
With both teams set to rekindled their established rivalries once more beginning Thursday, June 9, the Leone Stars indicated their intent and purpose of the match after they arrived the country on Saturday, five days ahead of the match date. With much time to acclimatise and become accustomed to harsh Nigerian weather, this could be an added advantage for the visitors.
While the visitors arrived on Saturday, the Super Eagles arrived on Monday from the United States of America’s two friendly matches only to began training same day in the night.
Difference in Ranking
Sierra Leone are far behind the Super Eagles with respect to FIFA’s global rankings for May.
Nigeria are ranked the 30th best team in the world on the last FIFA ranking and the third-best country in Africa. The Leone Stars, meanwhile, occupy the 24th spot on the continent and they are 108th in the world.
Nigeria remain the dominant side after 16 games between both countries.
The three-time African champions have won nine of their previous outings with four draws.
The last outing between the teams ended 0-0 at the Siaka Stevens National Stadium in Freetown.
Nigeria are hoping to qualify for the African football showpiece for the 20th time in their history.
However, they must negotiate their way past Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and Sao Tome & Principe in Group A.
In Cameroon 2021, they crashed out in the Round of 16 after losing 1-0 to 2004 African champions, Tunisia, in Garoua.
Although the visitors would hope to shock the Super Eagles at the MKO Abiola Stadium, what could hinder that ambition is their poor away form in Africa Cup of Nations qualification matches.
Sierra Leone have never won an AFCON qualification match away from home. Of all 17 matches played, ten ended in defeats while seven ended on a no winner, no vanquished note.
FIFA Ban Takes effect
The Nigeria Vs Sierra Leone will be played without fans as FIFA’s ban placed on the NFF takes effect.
The Nigeria Football Federation on Tuesday reiterated that Thursday’s 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying encounter between the Super Eagles and the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, Abuja will be played without fans in the stands.
NFF General Secretary, Dr Mohammed Sanusi said in Abuja on Tuesday that the situation is a consequence of the one-match ban placed on the country by world football –governing body, FIFA over the fracas that followed the end of 2022 FIFA World Cup playoff round against the Black Stars of Ghana in March.
Nigeria were hit with a one-game stadium closure and fined 150,000 Swiss francs after fans invaded the pitch in Abuja following their play-off defeat by Ghana.
The absence of fans, who gathered in their thousands for the World Cup play-off match against Ghana will not be there for the Super Eagles. This would make the atmosphere calmer and afford the visitors plenty of confidence to play.
Nigerians want their national teams to win every game – Dare
The minister of youth and sports, Mr Sunday Dare spoke in unequivocal terms on Wednesday, during Mr Peseiro’s official presentation that Nigerians want to win every game.
This statement, no doubt comes with it’s weighty pressure that the new coach would want to absorb and the match tomorrow will determine whether Nigerians will welcome him with the arms of love or with a repulsive anger.
With the kick-off set for 5pm WAT, Nigeria’s Super Eagles have a fading image and the match against Sierra Leone will mark its global rebirth or further deterioration.