By John Egbokhan
Nigeria’s Super Eagles are bracing themselves up for a bruising encouinter when they battle a resurgent Lone Stars of Liberia in a 2013 African Cup of Nations first leg qualifier at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Stadium in Monrovia.
TIME: 7.00PM TOMORROW
At stake is a ticket to play at the 2013 AFCON in South Africa and after failing to qualify for the last edition jointly-hosted by Equatorial Guinea andGabon, the Nigerians cannot afford another failure.
Coach Stephen Keshi,a former defender and captain of the Nigerian national team, during the best period of the Eagles, knows the importance of a victory in the match. Such is the pressure to win that a draw would be a huge disappointment to many Nigerian football followers.
Even President, Goodluck Jonathan, who visited the team during training on Wednesday, has drummed it into the team’s ear that only a win would be good enough for him, a message that Keshi and his army of players have promised to achieve.
While expecting a physical and tough battle from the Lone Stars, the former Mali and Togo coach said that his wards are charged to get maximum points, to ease the pressure during the reverse fixture in Nigeria.
Keshi played up the strength of the Lone Stars but noted that the buring hunger of his team was going to proplel them over their hosts.
“A country that has produced the likes of George Weah, who became world’s best footballer, cannot be said to be weak in talent, but we must show that we are stronger. I expect a tough, bruising game against Liberia and I trust that all of us will rise to the occasion.
“It is going to be a different ball game when we meet Liberia on Saturday unlike the last time we beat them in a friendly match. Each game has its own spirit, own day and this game against Liberia on Saturday is a different ball game, different spirit, different state of mind and we have to stay 100 percent as regards concentration to get what we want to get out there”, added Keshi.
Despite missing the duo of Chelsea midfielder Mikel Obi and West Bromw forward, Osaze Odemwingie. Keshi still has a complete complement of his top stars.
One of the players that Keshi would be counting on for goals tomorrow is Spartak Moscow forward, Emmanuel Emenike, who reiterated the belief that the Eagles will soar above Liberia. ”Liberia will be tough no doubt because they are playing at home and their aim is same as ours. We both have 90 minutes to prove ourselves”, said Emenike
He added that their absence at the 2012 Afcon was enough tonic for them to beat Liberia tomorrow.
”We missed out at the last edition of Nations Cup and I believe ill luck will not be for us this time. We tried all we could then (vs Guinea) but we were unlucky. Now we can’t wait to make Nigeria proud. We will qualify but not just on papers, but our determination and the support from fans everywhere will make it happen.”
Like Emenike, Liberia’s top star Sekou Oliseh also features in Russia with CSKA Moscow and first moved to Nigeria under the mentorship of Churchill Oliseh, older brother of Sunday Oliseh, before he moved to Europe.
For the Liberians, all eyes would be on Sekou Oliseh, who will lead a 12 foreign-based players against the Super Eagles of Nigeria. The advantage of playing at home in front of a capacity crowd would no doubt ginger the Lone Stars to get a famous win over their west African foes.
The Liberians boosted their confidence midweek with a 1-0 win over Malawi in a friendly in Monrovia. Zack Krangar was the goal scorer. He scored almost in injury time, making the Liberians to believe that victory against the Eagles was feasible.
The message is that tomorrow’s battle would be total football, with tactical improvement.
Krangar said that despite the 14 years that they have not beaten the Eagles that the ghost of 2011 could be revisited and tomorrow’s qualifier could be, to borrow the legendary Bruce Lee, the game of death.
But against Nigeria, they face a difficult test given that the Eagles have the upper hand over the Lone Star of Liberia in their previous six meetings.
Nigeria beat Liberia in 1984 in a 1986 World Cup qualifier, winning 3-0 in Lagos and 1-0 in Monrovia. Liberia’s only win within that time was when they stunned the star-studded Nigerians 2-1 in a 2002 World Cup qualifier, which the Eagles later avenged 2-0 in Port Harcourt on their way to pipping the Lone Star at the death to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
Earlier in the year, Keshi led a team, comprising of players from the Nigeria Premier League to beat the Lone Stars 2-0 in a friendly match.
But the stakes are higher tomorrow. Leaving both teams with no option but to fire at theemselves in a bid to get the ticket to play at the next Afcon in South Africa.