Former internationals, Tijani Babangida, Barnabas Imenger and Dahiru Sadi have called on the Super Eagles to improve on their performance when they meet the Crocodiles of Lesotho on Sunday in their second match of the 2021 AFCON qualifiers.
On Wednesday, three time African champions came from behind to beat Squirrels of Benin Republic 2-1 in their opening match of Group L but the victory didn’t stop football fans from demanding for improved performance from the Super Eagles.
Although most football analysts had predicted that the Super Eagles would make a mince-meat of their opponents, such predictions were proved wrong as the Squirrels actually rattled their opponents with an early goal scored by their star-man Stephane Sessegnon who capitalised on slopping defending by the Super Eagles to silence the vociferous fans at the ‘Nest of Champions’ in Uyo.
The more experienced but wasteful Super Eagles, however, rallied back to pick the maximum points after Bordeaux of France wideman, Samuel Kalu scored the winning goal in the 63rd minute.
The other group match between Sierra Leone and Lesotho ended in 1-1 draw so the Super Eagles are leading the table with three points.
Next up for the Super Eagles is the second group match with Likuena (Crocodiles) of Lesotho which is the Day 2 of the qualifying campaign.
The match billed for the Maseru-Setsoto Stadium on Sunday, November 17 offers the Super Eagles the opportunity to stretch their lead in the group and also prove that they are the more illustrious of the two teams.
Historically, Super Eagles and Crocodiles of Lesotho first met at this level on October 8, 2006 at the same venue where Sunday’s match will be played.
When they first met, most football fans expected a feast of goals but in the end, the Super Eagles only managed to win by a lone goal scored by now retired striker, Yakubu Aiyegbeni in the fourth minute of the second half.
The second and final meeting between the two countries was in 2007, precisely September 8 in the 2008 AFCON qualifier and it ended 2-0 in favour of the Super Eagles. Stephen Makinwa and Ikechukwu Uche scored a goal each to seal Nigeria’s qualification for 2008 AFCON.
Ahead of the match on Sunday in Maseru, some former Super Eagles players spoke to Trust Sports on their expectations from the present squad built around youngsters like Samuel Chukuweze, Alex Iwobi, Victor Osimhen, Wilfred Ndidi, Samuel Kalu and Moses Simon.
A member of the NFF Executive Committee and Chairman of Borno State FA, Alhaji Babagana Kalli said the Super Eagles shouldn’t expect an easy match against Lesotho.
He said if they are to come out victorious in Maseru, the Super Eagles players must re-double their efforts.
“I am confident that by the grace of God the Super Eagles would fly over Lesotho on Sunday. However, I don’t want them to underrate their opponents.
“I say this because, against Benin Republic, I expected them to win by at least 3-0 but in the end, they only managed to win 2-1. As a matter of fact, their opponents scored first so they had to come from behind to win.
“This is to tell you that there are no pushovers in modern football. The Super Eagles must improve on their performance to beat Lesotho.
“Football is a game of 90 minutes so until the final whistle is blown, you don’t drop your guard. Anything can happen especially now that they are playing away and their host would have so many advantages over them,” he advised.
A former Super Eagles attacking winger, Tijani Babangida also said the team should not concede an early goal against Lesotho and the strikers must make good use of chances that would come their way.
The former Ajax of Holland star maintained that after watching their performance at the 2019 AFCON, he was not surprised by the way the Squirrels of Benin Republic stood up to the Super Eagles.
“The performance of Benin Republic against the Super Eagles surprised many people but I wasn’t because I had watched how they put up a good show at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt. They have a good team.
“You can see that the Super Eagles had to come from behind to win 2-1. They literally fought to win. I commend the fighting spirit of the players.
“Surely, it wasn’t the best match but in competitions like this, what matters most is victory. They were able to pick the maximum points.
“However, the Super Eagles must approach Lesotho with different tactics and mentality. They should try not to concede an early goal. They also missed a lot of goal scoring chances against Benin Republic.
“They should learn to score goals. Matches are won when goals are scored. We’ve been having some issues in the area of goalkeeping and the defence but I believe the coaches will do something about it,” he said.
Another former international, Barnabas Imenger also said there are no more minnows in world football so the Super Eagles shouldn’t think the Crocodiles of Lesotho will be easy opponents.
The Team Manager of Lobi Stars explained that anytime an African team is to face the Super Eagles, they put in everything because they feel as if they are playing World Cup finals.
“Every nation is now playing football. There are no more small teams in world football. Moreover, African style of football is quite different from what is obtained in Europe, so when our players come home to play, they must realise that they are going to face more aggressive and physical opponents.
“I am sure the Super Eagles were surprised by the way Benin Republic opposed them. However, if they were smart enough, they would have remembered what the Squirrels did at the last Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt. They gave a very good account of themselves. They played good football and were strong.
“So my candid advice is that the Super Eagles must not take the match against Lesotho lightly. We indeed are the more formidable of the two but names don’t win matches on the field of play.
“Apart from the tactics, the coach of the coach should make sure that the players are mentally ready to face Lesotho. They must play from the blast of the whistle to the end with victory in mind,” he said.
Dahiru Sadi, a former Super Eagles player and Coordinator of the National U-23 team also said football, as played in Africa, is different from what is found in Europe so the players must learn to adapt to the African style whenever they are representing Nigeria.
“Nowadays, there is no pushover in African football. The Super Eagles can play their passing football when they are up against the Brazilians and some European opponents but the case with African oppositions is always different.
“There is so much physicality in African football and the Super Eagles must adjust to it if they want to win against Lesotho. Against Benin Republic, they laboured hard to win 2-1. The same thing will happen against Lesotho, if they do not take their chances,” said the former Ranchers Bees and Abiola Babes midfielder.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria were winners of the Africa Cup of Nations in 1980, 1994 and 2013.