By JACOB AJOM
Nigeria will today begin her defence of the West African Football Union Nations Cup trophy she won last year against the Eagles of Mali in Abeokuta, the Ogun state capital. Incidentally, it was the same venue the Super Eagles lifted the trophy last year under coach Daniel Omokachi whose side had just been knocked out of the African Nations Championship qualifiers by Niger.
Although Super Eagles chief coach, Samson Siasia has since asked Nigerians not to expect much from his hurriedly assembled team, there is no doubting the fact that as champions they will not go down easily against the Malians.
Interestingly, Coach Samson Siasia still has in his squad some of the players that made it happen for Amokachi. The likes of Sunday Rotimi, Ambrose Vanzekin, Chibuzor Okonkwo, Bartholomew Ibenegbu, Valentine Nwabili, Wasiu Sowemimo, Victor Ezeji, Ekhigo Ehiosun among others are no longer new in national team colours. With their experience and exposure, coach Siasia should not have much problems in the tournament which is in its second year.
Against a Malian side that will be injected with some of the players that featured prominently in the just concluded Africn Youth Championship in South Africa, Siasia need to be wary as the Malians are quick on the ball and deadly in attack. They have a youth programme that is yielding results.
If their performance in South Africa could serve as a glimpse of what the Malians are made of then the champions need to be constantly on their toes to ward off counter attacks and organised midfield play.
Siasia can bank on the lethal boots of veteran striker Victor Ezeji and current NPL hot shot, Ekigo Ehiosun to get him the goals. Enyimba of Aba star defender, Valentine Nwabili and Kano Pillars’ Wasiu Sowemimo should provide enough cover for either Sunday Rotimi or Ambrose Vanzekin in goal.
With eyes fixed on the impending international friendly against Argentina and the 2012 CAN qualifier against Ethiopia later in the month, the WAFU Nations Cup could provide Siasia with some of the options he may need to prosecute the twin assignments.
The Nigeria versus Mali match which kicks off 4.00 pm will be preceded by the tie between Senegal and Gambia.