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2015 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers: Eagles battle Sudan for survival

Holders Nigeria face former champions Sudan in
a fight for survival in the Morocco 2015 African
Cup of Nations qualifiers in Khartoum on
Saturday as Congo look to extend their lead at
the top of Group A table.
Cameroon ’72 Africa Cup of Nations champions
Congo lead Group A after defeating Nigeria 3-2 in
their group opening game in Calabar on
September 6 and continued their solid beginning
to the campaign with a 2-0 victory over Sudan in
Pointe-Noire four days later. South Africa are
second in the group on four points after beating
Sudan 3-0 at home and battling to a goalless draw
against Nigeria, who are third in the group on one
point. Sudan are rooted to the bottom of the
table after losing their two games.
There will also be a tough battle for a place in
Morocco 2015 between Dr Congo and Ivory Coast,
who are joint-second place in Group D on three
points behind leaders Cameroon on six points.
The Eagles, who have been left with no options
but to win the remaining four qualifying matches
to stand a chance of defending their title in
Morocco, will aim for maximum points against the
Desert Hawks to revive their hopes of qualifying
for their 17th Africa Cup of Nations.
But the Eagles face a mountain to climb in the
first leg clash in Khartoum as the Hawks badly
need a victory to revive their faint hopes of
climbing off the bottom of the table.
A victory for the Sudanese, who won the
tournament at home in 1970, will give the Hawks
a huge boost going into the second leg in Abuja
on Wednesday.
However, the Eagles are clear favourites going
into the encounter after running out winners six
times in 11 fixtures against the North African
country. They lost 4-0 to the Falcons in their
Ghana ’63 Africa Cup of Nations game in Kumasi
on November 28, 1963. Both sides battled to a
draw in four meetings.
African champions have beaten Sudan in their last
four engagements. An Emmanuel Amuneke brace
and a goal each from Rashidi Yekini and Friday
Ekpo helped the Eagles beat the Falcons 4-0 in
their Tunisia ’94 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying
clash at the National Stadium, Lagos, on April 23,
1993.
In their first leg Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup
qualifier in Port Harcourt on January 27, 2001,
Victor Agali bagged a brace, with Nwankwo Kanu
completing the show to lead Nigeria to a 3-0
victory over the Falcons. Current Eagles
goalkeeping coach Ike Shorunmu, Austin Okocha,
Taribo West, Ifeanyi Udeze, Celestine Babayaro,
Sunday Oliseh, Jonathan Akpoborie, Finidi
George, Isaac Okoronkwo, Garba Lawal and
Godwin Okpara were other players who saw
action in the encounter.
In the second leg at the El Meriekh Stadium in
Omdurman on July 1, 2001, incidentally the last
time Nigeria visited Sudan, Nigeria won 4-0 to seal
their place in Korea/Japan 2002.
Yakubu Aiyegbeni grabbed a brace while Okocha
and Julius Aghahowa on target each in the match.
Other players selected by coach Amodu Shaibu,
who took over from Dutchman Bonfere Jo, were
Shorunmu, Udeze, Taribo, Joseph Yobo, Finidi,
Kanu, Eric Ejiofor, Agali and Karibe Ojigwe.
Ahead of the Ghana 2008 Africa Cup of Nations,
Nigeria beat Sudan, who won the 1970
continental finals on home soil, 2-0 in a friendly
affair in Abuja on January 9, 2008.
The Eagles have been bedevilled by turmoil since
their second round exit at the 2014 World Cup in
Brazil after a 2-0 defeat by former champions
France.
Stephen Keshi’s contract expired after the World
Cup but the Nigeria Football Federation could not
decide the South Africa 2013 Africa Cup of
Nations-winning coach’s fate due to the
leadership crisis in the NFF.
Despite the restore of calm in the federation since
Amaju Pinnick was elected President of the NFF,
Keshi’s future has yet to be decided, as the
former Mali coach will be in the dugout for the
two AFCON qualifiers still on a caretaker basis.
Keshi, who was come under intense criticism from
fans and the media following Nigeria’s poor start
to Morocco 2015 qualifers, was reportedly locked
in battle with some of the players over the
performances at the World Cup, prompting the
Tunisia ’94 Africa Cup of Nations winner to make
changes to his squad. While the former Togo
manager snubbed the likes of Osaze Odemwingie
and Victor Moses for the qualifying games against
Congo and South Africa in Calabar and Cape Town
respectively, he dropped Fenerbahce hitman
Emmanuel Emenike to the bench for the two
fixtures.
South Africa 2013 Africa Cup of Nations Golden
Boot winner Emenike has taken issue with Keshi’s
claim that he decided to sideline the former
Spartak Moscow star because he arrived on the
eve of match against Congo and not showing him
and his teammates enough respect.
“There are certain things you’d not expect from
your coach,” Emenike was quoted as saying
during the week.
“If there’s any problem, as a player you only want
to find out directly from him and not in the
media, it’s something he taught us.
“I feel honoured playing for Nigeria and I respect
the coach like my own father. I give my all to the
team because we are like one big family any time
we all come together.
“But for him to say I am creating a problem in the
team and my teammates are unhappy with me is
sad and unacceptable.
“It’s like sending a wrong message to the fans, but
if the coach feels my invitation will not bring the
needed results or peace in the team, he can leave
me out.”
Keshi’s hopes of having Ukraine-based midfielder
Michael Babatunde and on-loan Stoke City
Moses in his lineup against Sudan in the fixture
against Sudan were dashed after the two players
were ruled out of the encounter with injuries.
Moses was injured playing for Stoke City against
Sunderland last Saturday, withdrawn after just 18
minutes of the Premier League fixture, which the
Potters lost 3-1. Keshi confirmed on Tuesday the
23-year-old would be out for three weeks,
meaning the player will also miss the reverse
fixture against Sudan in Abuja on Wednesday.
Keshi has since named Edem Eduok of Dolphins
as his replacement.
But despite Nigeria’s poor start to their Morocco
2015 qualifiers, Keshi insists the Eagles have not
lost their mojo.
“We have put the past behind us. We are
preparing ourselves against Sudan in Sudan. We
are trying our best to prepare ourselves for
success. Any team that is going out for a game
prepare themselves to be victorious, the former
Nigeria captain was quoted as saying during the
week.
“Sometimes being third on the table doesn’t
matter, it only challenges you more, makes you
focus more and more determined and that is
what we going to do.”
Goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who missed the
fixtures against Congo and South Africa, echoed
his manager’s optimism.
He said, “The last NFF regime has been wonderful
in terms of achievements and we want to
continue from there. That is why I must say the
Sudan game is a must-win for us, because it’s the
first competitive game under this dispensation.
On our part we are determined to continue to
support the team and soon you will see what we
would do through Corporate Nigeria and the rest
of the game’s supporters and sponsors.”
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast have been dealt a big
blow in their bid to revive their hopes of playing
in the competition for the 20th time.
The Senagal ’92 champions , who suffered a 4-1
defeat at the hands of their bitter rivals
Cameroon in Yaounde last month to place third in
Group D, have chance to leapfrog DR Congo on
the log as they travel to Kinshasa today. DR Congo
and Ivory Coast have three points each but the
central Africans lead their West African opponents
on super goals.

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