BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Nigeria’s Super Eagles will be aiming to regain their esteem this Thursday evening as they begin the quest for qualification for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations will a home duel with Sierra Leone.
This is a duel like no other one. It is the first time ever the team has been compelled to play a home match behind closed doors following crowd behavior the last time they played at home.
Somehow, playing in an empty MKO Abiola National Stadium in Abuja has its advantage. The Super Eagles will not be put under crowd pressure.
But there is another pressure. First this is the third time in two years that the team will be facing Sierra Leone. Sadly, they have not been able to beat the Leone Stars in their last two encounters.
Worst still, when they met on Nigerian soil, the visitors did the incredible, coming back from a 30-minute four goals down to level up at 4-4 within 20 minutes. It was one of the most remarkable come-bact stories in African football.
It marked the first time Nigeria conceded four goals at home since their 6-2 loss to United Arab Republic (largely Egypt) in November 1959.
But the greater presure on the Super Eagles is the quest to return to the winning way. The last time they won a match was on 19 January this year in Garoua, Cameroon when they beat Guinea Bissau 2-0.
Since, they have gone five matches without a win. The last time Nigeria ran a five streak of ‘no win’ was 59 years ago when it took a whole year from 24 November 1963 to 27 December 1964 before Nigeria won a match having lost to Egypt, Sudan, twice to Morocco and losing on Nigerian soil to Togo on home soil to be out of contention for the football event of the 1st All Africa Games in Congo.
This Thursday’s encounter with Sierra Leone will be the sixth match since they last won a match in January. Beyond that, new coach on the saddle, Jose Peseiro under whom the the team has played two matches is expected to win his first match with the Super Eagles.
Meanwhile, the Leone Stars appeared a determined lot having being in Nigeria four days ahead of the encounter. Winning may not be their first thought, but frustrating the Super Eagles into a drawn game may likely be their mission.