Apart from those two times, the Super Eagles have always been regulars in the tournament with a place in the final four usually expected of them, aside from the tournament in 2008 when they lost out in the quarter-finals.
That is why Saturday’s game against Guinea is so crucial for the Nigerians. They cannot afford to miss out on the continent’s most prized football fiesta. Samson Siasia took charge of the team last December promising to deliver a semi-final ticket in the World Cup of 2014.
The damage was done last October when crises in the federation ensured that the Super Eagles were not sure if they would play their second game against the Syli Stars in Conakry due to a Fifa ban.
It was overturned just in time for the Eagles to make the flight where they lost 1-0 courtesy of a Kevin Constant goal. Now Siasia has to clean up and ensure that he gets the opportunity to win as a coach the trophy he won as a player for Nigeria in 1994.
The Syli Stars can unite a nation
Writing on the Guineefoot website, commentator Alain Loua claimed that football is the key that Guinea needs to unite its different peoples at the moment after years of instability in the country’s politics. Qualification for Afcon 2012 will essentially win the hearts of all Guineans for the Syli Stars and increase patriotism in their country.
Having missed out on participating in the last edition held in Angola, Michel Dussuyer’s men have a brilliant opportunity to stake a claim among Africa’s best sixteen teams in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea next January. To do that, however, they need to keep clean sheets against the Super Eagles in front of a vociferous home crowd in Abuja. The men from Conakry have shown that they can stand their ground, having not lost on the road (one win and one draw) in the course of the qualifying series.
Even though captain Kamil Zayatte is doubtful due to a groin injury he picked up recently, Dussuyer will be able to count on midfielders Pascal Feindouno and Kevin Constant to trouble the Nigerians as they search for the all important single point that will send them to next year’s tournament. And perhaps it will also help in the west African nation’s healing.
Samson Siasia has a full squad to choose from except for the lack of fitness of right back Chibuzor Okonkwo, who will likely be replaced by midfielder Fegor Ogude. John Obi Mikel arrived late in camp and was fined $5,000 (€3,746), a sum that is expected to be removed from his playing bonus at the end of the camp. The team has welcomed back Peter Odemwingie after serving his two-match suspension.
Probable starting XI: Ayenugba; Taiwo, Yobo, Ambrose, Ogude; Mikel, Obi, Kalu Uche; Obinna, Ike Uche, Odemwingie
Michel Dussuyer will likely be without captain Zayatte, who picked up a groin injury. The delegation is led by former star and now minister of sport Aboubacar Titi Camara, who scored the lone goal in a defeat of Nigeria during qualification for World Cup 1998 in Conakry. The Guineans arrived on Thursday evening for the game and may not be properly rested before they go out against their hosts on Saturday.
Probable starting XI: Yatara; Bobo Balde, Diallo, Morlaye Cisse, Habib Balde; Feindouno, Constant, Ibrahim Bangura, Bah; Ismael Bangoura, Karamoko Cisse