W/Cup Playoff: Super Eagles Declare War On Black Stars

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• Say ‘World Cup Ticket, A Must For Nigeria’

The battle for a place at the FIFA 2022 World Cup is one that will bring out the best in the Super Eagle as the players have declared that they are battle ready to face Ghana Black Stars.

According to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) media department, the promise by the players came during a virtual meeting with Youth and Sports Minister, Sunday Dare and chieftains of the NFF on Tuesday night.

Coaches Austin Eguavoen, Emmanuel Amuneke and the players said they are aware of the huge challenge that Ghana’s Black Stars pose in next month’s two-legged play-off, but that they are determined to emerge victorious.

Speaking at the meeting, Super Eagles 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 wants 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 at the stadium to cheer us on.”

Eguavoen said that he is honoured to serve Nigeria. “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 is privileged to work with the team. “I have worked with some of the players at 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, 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.”

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 and Henry Onyekuru.

Nigeria, have featured in six of the past seven FIFA World Cup finals, will slug it out with the Black Stars in Cape Coast on Thursday March 24 before both teams tango again at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Sunday March 27.