The home-based Super Eagles face Equatorial Guinea on Tuesday knowing they are just a step away from Nigeria’s second-ever quarter-final berth at the African Nations Championship (CHAN).
In this ongoing fifth edition of the competition in Morocco, newcomers Equatorial Guinea stand between them and a place in the knock out round in their final group game at Agadir.
After a disappointing barren draw against Rwanda on Monday, the Eagles have not appeared with the intent to take charge of the group.
A lone goal victory against Libya on Friday helped to displace the table-toppers, and they now only need to avoid defeat against Equatorial Guinea to progress.
They should be aware that a loss is dangerous, as Libya can go on to draw with Rwanda for both sides to advance ahead of Nigeria on goals difference.
But a win is necessary on Tuesday to get to seven points and an opportunity to head into the last eight as group leaders.
The task before the Eagles may however look quite easy, but with Rwanda looking hot and just a point separating Libya from the joint table-table toppers, the Eagles cannot afford any slip-up.
The Amavubis would be nursing the very lofty ambition of finishing top of the group so as to avoid meeting Group D winners who could be any of their regional rivals.
Libya, after a bright start, will fight till the last with the hope that Nigeria will slip up.
The Eagles therefore must avoid any form of complacency and affirm their qualification by winning Group C, and only a massive win over Equatorial Guinea can ensure this.
One stark reality from the Eagles’ two matches is lack of goals, which may quite rightly be a reflection of the local league.
In the NPFL, the average number of goals per match is two, and one of them most often would come from the penalty kick spot.
Teams which score goals commit players to the opponents’ area, with a creative midfield standing before a solid defence.
Apart from during set-pieces, the Eagles normally had just two players in the box against Libya, and if they continue like this, they will continue to struggle to get goals.
If there is one thing the Super Eagles must get right in their subsequent matches, it is their finishing.
They registered more than 24 shots against the Amavubis, but ended up with not even a single goal.
As much as they will need goals against Equatorial Guinea, they will much more need them in the quarter-finals and beyond.
In spite of the seeming inadequacies in the first game, coach Salisu Yusuf kept faith with the same starting line-up against Libya, and this shows his confidence in them.
Hopefully, they will make amends with a better showing against Equatorial Guinea who are yet to open their goal scoring account but have conceded four goals in the championship so far.
However, the best for the Eagles going forward may be to rest key players like Anthony Okpotu and Rabiu Ali.
This is to avoid them picking up injuries like the one suffered by Ifeanyi Ifeanyi.
Clearly, Emeka Ogbugh is the most technical forward in the CHAN team, especially as he has been able to see and exploit opportunities, especially on breakaways.
But he has been backing himself into cul-de-sac.
The coaching staff must tutor the Rivers United forward on how he should deploy his technical ability to help the team create more fruitful goal scoring chances and also score.
The team can obviously improve in all aspects, though the defensive foundation of Stephen Eze and Orji Okagbue in central defence is already in place.
However, Yusuf will have to tinker with his midfield and attack to get the best out of these set of players.
The championship which began on Jan. 13 is expected to end on Feb. 4.(NAN)