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Super Eagles hope to end Nations Championship woes

05 July 2013, 15:03

Johannesburg - Nigeria will this weekend launch a third campaign to try and reach the African Nations Championship for the first time.

Fierce regional rivals Ghana ousted the Super Eagles from the 2009 qualifiers and minnows Niger did likewise in the next eliminators two years later.

Losing 2-0 in Niamey was one of the darkest days for Nigerian football, and the biggest shock in the short history of a competition restricted to footballers playing in their country of birth.

But Nigeria are expected to turn a new leaf Saturday and establish a winning lead at home against Ivory Coast in a first round, first leg qualifier for the 2014 tournament in South Africa.

Victory in the home-and-away showdown, with the return match scheduled for Abidjan late July, takes the winners into the 16-nation January 11-February 1 finals.

Coach Stephen Keshi can call on eight of the squad that came third behind Spain and Uruguay in Group B of the Confederations Cup in Brazil last month.

They are goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim, defenders Francis Benjamin, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Solomon Kwambe and Godfrey Oboabona, midfielders Sunday Mba and Emeka Eze and striker Muhammad Gambo.

The squad for the match in  Kaduna also includes striker Dele Olorundare, the leading scorer with 11 goals in the highly competitive national championship.

"I have absolute confidence in you to achieve the feat of defeating the Ivory Coast -- believe in yourselves," was the message Keshi gave his squad as they began preparations this week.

"Our chances of success have been enhanced by playing the first leg at home -- I believe that gives us a big advantage over the Ivorians.

"The target is South Africa and you have the experience, maturity and tournament exposure to reach that goal," added the man who created football history last February.

Known as 'Big Boss' because of his imposing physique and strong views, Keshi became the first Nigerian to win the Africa Cup of Nations as a footballer and a coach.

He captained the 'Super Eagles', who defeated Zambia in the 1994 Tunis final, and steered them to victory over Burkina Faso in the 2013 Soweto final five months ago.

While Keshi can bank on a wealth of international experience, the opposite is the case for his Ivory Coast counterpart Norbert Saraka.

Only one of his 25-man squad -- goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare -- was in the 'Elephants' squad eliminated from the 2013 Cup of Nations by Nigeria at the quarter-finals stage.

Saraka will rely heavily on the stars of Sewe Sport San Pedro, who have just successfully defended the national league title and supply five of the squad.

Goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo, defenders Fortune Ngoran and Kassi Akesse and midfielders Lapka Dogui and Roger Assale are the Sewe quintet who got the nod.

But there are just two players from former African champions and once-dominant domestic club ASEC Mimosas -- defender Marc Goua Mahan and striker Davy Boua Koffi.

While the Nigeria-Ivory Coast clash dominates the eight-fixture weekend schedule, the regional qualifying format ensures plenty of spicy match-ups.

Defending champions Tunisia have included three of the squad that crushed Angola 3-0 in the 2011 decider for a home game against Morocco in Mediterranean resort Sousse.

The survivors from the Khartoum triumph are goalkeeper Farouk Ben Mustapha and strikers Slama Kasdaoui and Ahmed Akaichi in a squad containing five players each from five clubs.

Coach Nabil Maaloul has chosen an equal number of stars from CA Bizerte Club Africain, CS Sfaxien, two-time African champions Esperance and Etoile Sahel.

The best known member of a Moroccan squad based around the top Casablanca and Rabat clubs is veteran goalkeeper Nadir Lamyaghri of 1992 African Champions Cup winners Wydad.

Other fixtures include Senegal-Mauritania in Dakar, Mali-Guinea in Bamako, Burkina Faso-Niger in Ouagadougou, Cameroon-Gabon in Yaounde, Democratic Republic of Congo-Congo in Kinshasa and Burundi-Sudan in Bujumbura.



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