BY MUYIWA AKINTUNDE
The Super Eagles are set to arise in Uyo and go further to shine in all six matches leading to participation in the 33rd edition of Africa’s flagship football competition, the Africa Cup of Nations, to be staged next door, Cameroon.
Like Egypt 2019, 24 teams, including the host nation, will battle for the ultimate prize in Cameroon from June 11 to July 9, 2021.
Three-time winners, Nigeria ended Egypt 2019 as the third best team, achieving a tournament’s record of eight bronze medals. They have western neighbours Benin Republic as the first hurdle in their determination to continue from where they stopped in the competition.
Even as next door neighbours, the head-to-head clashes between Nigeria and Benin Republic are few and far between.
In competitive competitions, the Eagles were paired with the Squirrels in Group C of Angola 2010 Africa Cup of Nations with the “giants” managing a lone goal result, finishing behind leaders Egypt and ending the tournament in third position.
In the qualifiers for the last African Nations Championship hosted by Morocco last year, Nigeria encountered Benin Republic losing 0-1 in Cotonou and finishing the business at home 2-0.
Both sides were engaged in friendlies same day last month (October 13). The Super Eagles went to Singapore and were forced to 1-1 by Brazil, while Benin Republic played 2-2 with Zambia in Porto-Novo.
The Eagles have their captain Ahmed Musa back from the injury that kept him out of the Brazilian clash, just as the rest of the young squad appear ready to soar in two matches within five days – the second away to Lesotho on Sunday.
In Nigeria’s group, Sierra will host Lesotho at the same time of the Nigeria-Benin Republic encounter.
Title holders Algeria Algeria are in Group H of the qualifiers and welcome Zambia on Friday, while the other match in that group have Botswana away to Zimbabwe on Saturday.
Senegal, who lost painfully to Algeria in last July’s showpiece match of Egypt 2019, start the campaign tonight at home to Congo Republic in Group I after Guinea-Bissau would have hosted Eswatini a few hours earlier.
Tunisia, losers to Nigeria in the third place match of Egypt 2019, are in Group J along with Libya, Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea. All sides go to battle on Friday, Tunisia hosting Libya and Tanzania receiving Equatorial Guinea in Dar-es-Salam.
Cameroon will be involved in the qualifications only to keep in shape as their place in the finals is reversed as host nation. That leaves Group F, where the Indomitable Lions are placed, producing one more team from among Cape Verde Islands, Mozambique and Rwanda.
Matchday 1 fixtures
Group L: Nigeria v Benin Republic, Sierra Leone v Lesotho (both 5pm)
Group B: Malawi v South Sudan (2pm), Burkina Faso v Uganda (8pm)
Group E: Central African Republic v Burundi (2pm)
Group A: Namibia v Chad Republic (5pm)
Group F: Cameroon v Cape Verde (5pm)
Group I: Guinea Bissau v Eswatini (5pm), Senegal v Congo Republic (8pm)
Group C: Sudan v São Tomé and Príncipe (8pm)
Group D: Angola v The Gambia (8pm)
Group F: Mozambique v Rwanda (5pm)
Group G: Egypt v Kenya, Togo v Comoros Islands (both 5pm)
Group A: Mali v Guinea (8pm)
Group C: Ghana v South Africa (8pm)
Group D: DR Congo v Gabon (8pm)
Group H: Algeria v Zambia (8pm)
Group H: Zimbabwe v Botswana (5pm)
Group E: Morocco v Mauritania (8pm)
Group J: Tanzania v Equatorial Guinea (5pm), Tunisia v Libya (8pm)
Group K: Madagascar v Ethiopia (2pm), Côte d’Ivoire v Niger Republic (8pm)