Nigeria players and coaches have assured of their determination to earn a spot at the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals at the expense of Ghana.
The Super Eagles and Black Stars will face off twice in late March with the winner qualifying for the global showpiece in Qatar later this year.
At a virtual meeting with Youth and Sports Minister Sunday Dare and chieftains of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) on Tuesday night, coaches Augustine Eguavoen and Emmanuel Amuneke and the playing body said they are aware of the huge challenge that Ghana’s Black Stars will present in next month’s two-legged play-off, but are determined to emerge victorious.
Captain Ahmed Musa said: “The FIFA World Cup is the biggest football tournament in the world, and every player wants to feature there. A good number of the players in the team now have not been there, and the few of us that have been there want to experience it again.
“We just want the NFF to help us get enough fans into the Abuja Stadium for the second leg. We will go to Ghana and dig our feet and ensure we get a result. We must admit that Ghana also want to qualify and they have a strong team. The return leg will be crucial and we are ready for the battle, but we want our fans to be in there cheering us on.”
Technical adviser Augustine Eguavoen had this to say: “It is always an honour to serve the country. I was impressed with the high level of discipline and commitment of the players at the AFCON in Cameroon, and I feel privileged to lead the group.
“We have two tough games against Ghana next month but I am not too worried because we have a squad that knows it is a mountain that we have to climb.”
We have a good headache to deal with – which is a surplus of good players. I want to thank the Government and the NFF for all the support during the AFCON; we will need even greater support for the World Cup play-off.”
Chief coach Emmanuel Amuneke said he was privileged to work with the team. “I have worked with some of the players in the U17 and U20 teams, and some others I have known for many years. We have the team to earn the World Cup ticket and we will put our best foot forward for each game.”
Deputy Captain William Ekong added that the players are aware of the big task ahead and only wants the Government to ensure that the pitch of the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja is in ‘pristine condition’ for the return leg encounter against the Black Stars.
“We loved the pitch of the stadium in Garoua and it helped us play some good football. We would be delighted if the Abuja Stadium is in similar condition for the second leg.”
In his opening remark, Youth and Sports Minister Sunday Dare extolled the players for their efforts at the AFCON, and expressed belief that lessons have been learnt from the defeat to Tunisia in the Round of 16.
“I know you are still unhappy about the loss to Tunisia, but I want you to visit the anger of the defeat by Tunisia on Ghana. We all know about the history of the rivalry between Nigeria and Ghana in football, and this is one fixture that we must not lose.
“We know that dogged spirit is there in you, and we also want you to see yourself as one big family. We have confidence in you that you can do it and will give you all the support. Coaches Eguavoen and Amuneke have smooth access to the NFF President and he will always be ready to provide what you need. As for the pitch of the MKO Abiola National Stadium, we have experts working there all the time and I assure you it will be in perfect condition for the match.”
President of NFF and FIFA Council Member, Mr Amaju Melvin Pinnick charged the players to face the two-leg fixture with even greater determination and play with grit, guts, zest and elan. “These are two very crucial matches in which you have to give more than your best. Winning the World Cup ticket is non-negotiable.”
Also at the meeting was General Secretary of the NFF, Dr Mohammed Sanusi.
Among the players present were Musa, Ekong, Victor Osimhen, Abdullahi Shehu, Sadiq Umar, Jamilu Collins, Frank Onyeka, Oluwasemilogo Ajayi, Kelechi Nwakali, Wilfred Ndidi, Zaidu Sanusi, Joseph Ayodele-Aribo, Oghenekaro Etebo, Daniel Akpeyi, Peter Olayinka, Taiwo Awoniyi, Moses Simon, Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi, Samuel Chukwueze, Samuel Kalu, Henry Onyekuru.
Nigeria, who have featured in six of the past seven FIFA World Cup finals, slug it out with the Black Stars in Cape Coast on Thursday, 24th March before both teams meet again at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Sunday, 27th March.
Ghana are aiming for a return to World Cup after missing out on the last edition in Russia. Black Stars have appeared in three of the last four tournaments.