By Jacob Ajom
Get this right. This is not about a territorial battle. It is the setting put up by 27th African Cup of Nations. Nigeria’s coach, Shaibu Amodu must be cursing his stars as he is still bemused over the precarious position he finds his team in the on-going Africa Cup of Nations in Angola.

LONE RANGER... Super Eagles forward and scorer of the lone goal in their 1-3 loss to Egypt, Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi (right) tackling Mohamed Zidan who tore Eagles defence to shreds.

In a group that features Egypt, Mozambique and Benin, Nigeria is at the bottom of the log with no point after opening her campaign on a losing note. Amodu’s nemesis were the Pharaohs who downed the Eagles 3-1 on January 12. It was painful that the Egyptians came from behind to inflict the embarrassing defeat on the Nigerians.

The worry among Nigerians is that the Eagles paraded by Amodu did not live up to expectations, particularly, after that mid-blowing equaliser by the Egyptians, twenty minutes after Chinedu Obasi’s stunning opener in the 12th minute. The loss is now history and the Eagles still have at least two matches to reassert themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

To begin with, the Nigerian flagbearers have their western neighbours, Benin to contend with in the second group match today. Nigeria always have this luck of playing Benin when things are tight. In Ghana, two years ago, Nigeria lost the opening match to Cote d’Ivoire but a victory over Benin paved the way for the Eagles, then under German coach, Berti Vogts. The Eagles progressed from the group stage before they lost to host, Ghana in the quarter final. Eagles exit in the second round  was regarded as Nigeria’s worst performance in decades.

Today, every Nigerian is praying for another win over Benin, no matter the margin, for the maximum points. But will it come as easy as it sounds? Hard to say, but achievable.

If the Eagles must beat Benin today, then Amodu must play a set of Eagles who will be committed, disciplined and have a thirst for glory. Then the coach must effect changes from the starting line up that played against Egypt.

Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama should still man the posts. But for his agility, Nigeria would have conceded more goals against the Pharaohs. The problem with the back line was Yobo’s inability to co-ordinate affairs properly and mainly the rookie Amodu forced on the team, Yusuf Mohammed was a clear square peg in a round hole.

The occasion was far bigger than his mentality that he made a lot of schoolboy mistakes. In place of Taye Taiwo, it is advisable that an Elderson Echiejile could add more verve and urgency to the left flank.

The game today is about youth, tactics and discipline; qualities, I think the younger Echiejile enjoys superiority over Taiwo. Without the likes of Olubayo Adefemi, Olufemi Ajilore and Ayodele Adeleye, Amodu will continue to reel in pains as he parades the most predictable defence line in the tournament. The coach deserves no pity as he has to make do with what he has.

The midfield where Mikel Obi, Dickson Etuhu,Yusuf Ayinla and Kalu Uche operate can be strengthened with the introduction of Sani Keita or Seyi Olofinjana, if reports that Etuhu has injury are anything to go by. Amodu must be bold enough to bench his star striker, Yakubu Aiyegbeni who is clearly out of form. He roamed the pitch throughout the encounter against Egypt without a shot at goal.

In his place, a more businesslike striker like Obinna Nsofor could be introduced and need we say that Nigeria’s player of the moment, Osaze Odemwinge should assume his place in the team without further delay if the doctors confirm him okay. With the unstable Obafemi Martins shuttling between Europe and Angola, Amodu is left with a few options up front. Should he be back to camp, Martins could just be Amodu’s joker. He did it in Nairobi in the qualifiers, he can do it again.

Despite their impressive 2-2 draw against Mozambique in their first match, Benin also remain uncomfortable, as a loss to Nigeria could spell the end to yet another dream of their making a genuine impact at the continental fiesta.

Definitely, the draw with Mozambique could turn out to be the source of motivation for the Beninoise, who believe Nigeria’s current squad cannot pose any serious threat to their ambition in Angola. Will this be a misplaced confidence?

The Squirrels possess a young team, full of athletic, attacking players, including Nigerian-born striker Razak Omotoyossi and the talented Stephane Sessegnon of Paris Saint-Germain. In their fold also is one player one could safely say was made in Nigeria, Muri Ogunbiyi who won the CAF champions league with Enyimba. Ogunbiyi knows Nigerian football inside out.

He could be a real threat and must be stopped from orchestrating his midfield play.
History favours Nigeria, but in Angola, upset has been the watchword. Can Benin continue with the string of upsets recorded in Angola so far.


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