Nigeria’s Super Eagles stand a great chance of reaching the African Nations Championship finals for the first time as the team is now much stronger and exposed, says NFF General Secretary, Musa Amadu.
Speaking in Abuja on Wednesday, hours before the arrival of the Ivorian Elephants for Saturday’s qualifier against Nigeria in Kaduna, Amadu reflected that the country’s absence from the first two editions of the championship was down to lack of experience and exposure of the home-based professionals.
“We failed to qualify for the inaugural edition hosted by Cote d’Ivoire after failing to beat Ghana in Calabar, and in the qualifying series for the second championship staged in Sudan, we lost to Niger Republic in Niamey and could only draw with them in Kano.
“In both instance, our players lacked requisite exposure. Now, I can tell you that the situation is much different. Eight of the home boys were in Coach Stephen Keshi’s team to the FIFA Confederations Cup, five of them were in the team that triumphed at the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa and 14 of them were at the training camp in Germany preparatory to the FIFA Confederations Cup and the World Cup qualifiers that preceded it.
“So, if you compare the various teams, the present class is stronger and Nigeria would be third time lucky. We have the team to conquer Cote d’Ivoire and reach the finals being staged in South Africa early next year.”
Nigeria heads into the weekend clash in Kaduna with the likes of defender Godfrey Oboabona and attacking midfielder Sunday Mba having gained continental fame following magnificent performances at the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa earlier in the year. Both players also featured at the recently-concluded FIFA Confederations Cup tournament in Brazil, and have been part of Nigeria’s 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.
Goalkeeper and skipper Chigozie Agbim, defenders Chibuzor Okonkwo and Azubuike Egwuekwe and midfielder Olufemi Oladapo also have ample international experience, while strikers Muhammad Gambo and Dele Olorundare have shone in African club competitions and should have no palpitations if asked to start on Saturday.
Match officials from Mali, led by centre referee Mahamadou Keita would fly into Lagos on Thursday evening and arrive in Kaduna on Friday morning.
The Ivorian Elephants are to be accommodated at the Access Hotel in Kaduna, after enjoying the hospitality of Silver Grandeur Hotel in Lagos on Wednesday night, while the Super Eagles will stay at the African Continental Hotel.