African champions Nigeria find themselves in a must win situation in Khartoum on Saturday where they face a Sudanese side yet to score in 2015 AFCON qualifying. After two games the Super Eagles find themselves in 3rd place in the group with one point after losing at home 3-2 to Claude Le Roy’s Congo Brazzaville and playing a 0-0 draw in Johannesburg vs. South Africa. Amid the uncertainty and off field issues surrounding Nigerian football in the last month or so Keshi has expressed the importance of this game saying “The most important thing for me in my career right now is to win in Sudan.” despite him being out of contract since the World Cup and reportedly not being paid for a few months either. Keshi has also been criticized lately of his squad selection leaving out the likes of Ikechukwu Uche and including several uncapped players including China based striker Aaron Samuel and Reading midfielder Hope Akpan.
No doubt Stephen Keshis situation remains unclear but as of now Nigeria need to focus more with on-field issues as a stern test in the sweltering temperatures of the Khartoum cauldron awaits them on Saturday. Sudan who lie bottom of the group with 2 of the worst performances I’ve witnessed in the last decade or so need to forget about the past and approach Saturdays game fearless, with the clear intent of winning the game, snatching 3 points and staying in consideration for Morocco 2015.
The Nigeria squad will arrive on Friday morning with a private jet to avoid jet lag or any Addis Ababa connection flights and stay in one of Khartoums best hotels; Salam Rotana. They will also undergo one training session in Khartoum that Friday night to finalise preparations for Saturdays clash.
Sudan have been camping since Monday, training regularly twice a day. Coach Mazda has picked 25 players for the two games vs. Nigeria that include 8 from Al Hilal, 5 from Al Merriekh and 6 from Ahly Shandy, the top 3 teams in Sudan. Most Sudanese fans will be hoping to see a more attacking approach from Sudan, preferably starting with 2 strikers. Mazda has opted to go with one striker in both the last two games and Sudan have failed to register a goal. Avoiding the psychological barrier of playing the ‘champions of Africa’ and concentrating on matching Nigeria on the pitch will be the key if Sudan is to come out with anything from the next two games. Sudan tend to capitulate when playing big named opposition and that simply can’t happen on Saturday. Especially when playing at home, Sudan must learn to be fearless and demonstrate composure especially in these situations where nothing less than a win will do.
Both teams struggling with injuries/absentees; Nigeria will be without Ukraine based winger Michael Babatunde and Stoke forward Victor Moses who are both injured. Both have been regular attacking options in recent times so definitely a big blow for Keshi and Nigeria. Sudan will be missing midfield machine Nazar Hamid who has picked up a foot injury in training and also star striker Mudathir Kareka who failed to make it back in time from Saudi Arabia after performing Hajj Pilgrimage due to ticketing issues. Most Sudanese footballing fans will look at that reason for Kareka’s absence in utter disgrace and curse at how ridiculous the Sudanese FA is in failing to transport back who is arguably the national team’s best player in time for what is Sudan’s most important game and last hope in these qualifiers. Is it really that difficult to send a private plane 2 and a half hours east of Sudan to transport our best player for what is a do or die match?? For me what’s hard is to perform on the field when you are being led by the masters of failure.
Yes, on paper Nigeria are the strongest side, yes; their squad is filled with world class individuals who are able to make the difference at any given time in the game, but if Sudan STAY discipline for 90 minutes, maintain their shape, defend properly from set pieces and can find that little bit of incisiveness in front of goal with a roaring jam packed Khartoum stadium rallying behind them, anything is possible. Game after game, match after match, thousands block the roads of Khartoum/Omdurman to make their way to the stadium willing to stand hours in killer temperatures to support and shout and sing with the hope of seeing the national team victorious, with the hope of leaving the stadium joyous with smiles all around and it rarely happens these days. Dear Mazda: for the sake of Sudan, Saturday is your final opportunity.
Nigeria – Emmanuel Emenike: No doubt, one of the African strikers around nowadays, his pace and power capable of destructing most defences. The Sudanese defence must be wary of his movement and not allow him much time on the ball if they are too keep him quiet.
Sudan – Sudan will rely mainly on their No.9 Bakri Al Madena dubbed ‘The Sudanese Carlos Tevez’ to provide the goods, great pace, loves running up and down the channels, exploiting spaces. Sudan will hope he serves a handful for the Nigerian defence come Saturday night.
Sudan – Last 5 – LLLDW
Nigeria – Last 5 – DLLLW
Sudan – Mahjoub; Jalal, Kamal, Gaafar, Faris Abdullah; Shigail, Bisha, Muhand; Bakri, Al Jizoli.
Nigeria – Enyeama; Ambrose, Obabona, Omerou, Elderson; Onazi, Mikel, Igiebor; Aluko, Musa, Emenike.
By Abdul Musa – (@PepJunior1)