Stade du L’amitie, also known as Friendship Stadium, Cotonou, is the battle ground as home-based Super Eagles trade tackles with the Squirrels of Benin Republic in the 2018 African Nations Championship (CHAN) qualifying first leg fixture.
Nigeria failed to reach the finals of the first two editions of the competition exclusively reserved for footballers plying their trade in their countries’ domestic Leagues.
The Super Eagles won the bronze medals at the third edition in 2014. They however could not make the knock – out stage at the fourth edition in Rwanda early last year.
The encounter on Sunday promises to be exciting and tough going by past meetings of the teams, despite the Super Eagles have enjoyed the upper hand.
At the 2004 AFCON in Tunisia, the Nigerian team struggled to beat the Squirrels 1-0 courtesy of a 42nd minute penalty by Yakubu Aiyegbeni. Also at the 2008 AFCON in Ghana, the Eagles battled hard to outscore the Squirrels 2-0 with goals coming from the boots of Mikel Obi and Yakubu Aiyegbeni.
It was the same story at the 2010 edition in Angola as Garba Lawal and John Utaka fired Nigeria in front, while Latoundji scored a consolation for the Squirrels.
However, with the exclusion of foreign-based players from this competition, the Benin Republic boys have proven to be a strong side going by their impressive performance, having stopped the Hawks of Togo in the early round of the qualifiers.
Available information indicates that the Squirrels, who will be parading about seven Nigerians in their squad, are determined to shock Nigeria.
The Eagles under head coach Salisu Yusuf are optimistic of recording a good result and will be banking on the experiences of captain, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Sikiru Olatubosun, Osas Okoro, Stephen Odey, Orji Kalu, Alhassan Ibrahim and others to make victory possible and make the return leg a mere formality game.
The team will fly from Kano to Lagos on Friday and then make the short trip to Cotonou by road same day.
The return leg will hold at the Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano, on Saturday, 19th August, with the winner qualifying for the 5th African Nations Championship scheduled for Kenya early next year.