Wednesday Jun 08, 2022. 10:50
Nigeria will look for a return to winning form when they welcome Sierra Leone for a 2023 Africa Cup of Nations Group A qualifying match at the Moshood Abiola National Stadium in Abuja on Thursday 9 June, kick-off at 18:00 CAT.
Nigeria, who have missed three (2012, 2015 and 2017) of the last six AFCON tournaments, come into this match very much on a low ebb.
Not only did they exit the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon in the round of 16 earlier this year, they also missed out on qualification for the 2022 World Cup (at the hands of arch enemies Ghana) and have suffered back-to-back friendly defeats to Mexico and Ecuador in the United States since the start of the month.
Despite these latest setbacks under new coach Jose Peseiro, the Super Eagles’ players are confident that they are opening a bold new chapter, which will reap rewards in the preliminaries for the 2023 Nations Cup.
“We’ve had two games under the new manager and this will help us in our upcoming qualifiers,” captain William Troost-Ekong explained. “When you face South American teams the styles are obviously different and the team is mentally and physically tested in a very hard way. We can all come together for a better chapter for the country.”
Sierra Leone, who returned to the AFCON for the first time in more than two decades earlier this year, will be targeting back-to-back appearances at the continental finals.
The Leone Stars defeated both Liberia and Congo in international friendlies back in March, with coach John Keister placing his faith mostly in the same players which did duty at the AFCON in Cameroon and elevating former Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool defender Steven Caulker to the position of captain.
“It would be difficult but I’m excited to start these qualifiers, we have a lot of new talent, new players, a new system and a new identity. I am really delighted to be able to lead this group in qualifying,” said Caulker.
“Our qualifying group is going to be tough, obviously Nigeria will be looking to bounce back from their disappointment following their elimination to Ghana in the 2022 World Cup.
“We have to be at our best for every game and against Nigeria is an opportunity to put Sierra Leone on the world football map.
“I’m sure like we did in the last AFCON, we have to be at our best for all games, not just against Nigeria, we should go into every game with the ambition to win it.”
In head-to-head terms, Nigeria and Sierra Leone have met in 16 previous matches, dating back as far as 1961. The Super Eagles have claimed nine wins compared to two for the Leone Stars, while five games have been drawn.
The teams last met in the qualifiers for the 2021 AFCON, playing to 4-4 and 0-0 draws four days apart in November 2020, with the matches held in Benin City and Freetown respectively.
Ivorian referee Ibrahim Kalilou Traore will take charge of the game in Abuja. The other Group A Matchday 1 fixture takes place earlier on Thursday 9 June and sees Guinea-Bissau ‘host’ Mauritius in Marrakesh, Morocco.