By Jacob Ajom
The Super Eagles took a giant step in their bid to earn a ticket to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations to be staged in Cameroon. The Eagles who now top Group E with 9 points from four matches need just two points to seal their place in the tournament which will be held early next year.
The Eagles who started the second round matches of the qualifiers from third improved their standing by winning three straight matches over Seychelles 3-0 in Victoria and Libya back-to-back in Uyo and Sfax. Nigeria’s chances for qualification were made brighter by Seychelles goalless draw with South Africa in Victoria on a day the Eagles were grinding out a 3-1 victory over Libya in Sfax.
With 9 points, two above second-placed South Africa, Nigeria look set for her first AFCON tournament since winning the biennial tournament in South Africa in 2013.
But Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr has said his wards will not drop their guards until the ticket is sealed. “We will keep fighting,” the German tactician said in a chat after the hard-earned 3-2 win over Libya in Sfax. “We have not qualified yet,” he added, saying that Nigerians won’t forgive them if they slip at this stage.
Appraising the effort of his players in the double header against Libya, Rohr observed that what he saw of the Libyans did not surprise him. “I said it in Uyo that they(Libyans) are going to fight and they gave us a good fight in Sfax and my young team were nervous as the Libyans almost destabilised us .
They fought hard and I thank my players for the early two goals we scored in the first half. We tapped from our World Cup experience to hold on and even when the Libyans drew level, we had the extra resources to come back and score the third goal. In the end we had the last laugh. But we will keep fighting,” Rohr said, adding that he has enough time to prepare his team against South Africa. “We have very good chance of picking the ticket, even if we take one point from the remaining two matches.”
Super Eagles first choice goalkeeper, Francis Uzoho said for the Eagles to make their qualification a certainty, they must take every match serious. He dismissed the insinuation that the Bafana Bafana would not pose a problem when the Eagles go to Johannesburg in November.
“I’ve never, in my life underrated any team. Every team I come against, I put in my best. It’s the same mentality with the team I joined in November. So I wouldn’t say it’s going to be an easy match. Imagine they drew against Seychelles.”
Stand-in captain, Ahmed Musa is optimistic the Eagles were headed in the right direction as far as the 2019 AFCON was concerned. “I am happy over the three points. The team played well as we met our target of taking maximum points from them. After this victory, we have our eyes set on the next match against South Africa.”
New Super Eagles defender, Jamilu Collins believes he derived his confidence from the manner he was welcomed by his colleagues. “They accepted me from onset. We are like a family and I have been so warmly welcomed.”
He said he did not expect less from the Libyans. “We all knew it’s not going to be an easy game because for a team to concede four goals, we knew they would fight back, even though we got two early goals.”
As Nigeria inches her way towards 2019 AFCON, who joins the Super Eagles from the group?
On paper, with 7 points from three matches, the Bafana Bafana of South Africa look in a better position to progress. But the threat from Libya makes it look ominous.
Pundits point to the fact that Libya showing so much promise against Nigeria and South Africa in particular, could just turn the apple cart and claim the second spot in the group. While South Africa need at least a win in the remaining two matches against Nigeria in Johannesburg and Sfax, Libya still have a home game against Bafana Bafana and one in Victoria against Seychelles. If Libya beat Seychelles in November they would tie on points with South Africa and a final victory over them in the final group match in Sfax could see north Africans nicking the final ticket.