By Gowon Akpodonor/ GUARDIAN.NG
• Team Makes First Sea Voyage Since 1949
• Ahmed Musa, Gernot Rohr Speak
After two-hour voyage on the sea, players and officials of the Super Eagles landed in Porto Novo yesterday with a vow to cripple their host, Squirrels of Benin Republic in today’s games of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier. The trip to Porto Novo through waterway from Lekki was the first time for the Super Eagles since their maiden predecessors, the famed UK Tourists, made a journey by sea from Lagos to Liverpool in August 1949.
The Nigerian contingent hit Porto Novo Jetty with much buzz, glitz and glitter yesterday afternoon in six boats.
Nigeria’s ambassador to Benin Republic, His Excellency Ambassador Olawale Awe, led mission staff to await the delegation and then accompanied the team and its officials to the Golden Tulip Hotel in Cotonou. The Super Eagles will ride by bus to Porto Novo this morning and return to the Golden Tulip after their clash with the Squirrels at the Stade Charles de Gaulle.
With three–pointer, Sierra Leone, scheduled to commence hostilities with bottom–placed Lesotho at 3pm GMT today, it means the match in southern Africa would have ended before Nigeria and Benin due to kick off at 6pm GMT. A draw in Maseru will ensure the Super Eagles are through to the finals in Cameroon.
However, the Eagles have vowed to cripple their host so as to make it a double over the Squirrels.
Team Captain Ahmed Musa said: “We are not looking at what happens in Lesotho. It is not necessary for us to bother ourselves with what they play. Our focus is to get the three points here in Porto Novo and wrap up qualification. Three points will get us to Cameroon no matter what anyone plays, and that is what we are determined to get.”
In November 2019, the Squirrels shocked the Eagles with a goal inside the first five minutes at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo, before goals by Victor Osimhen and Samuel Kalu earned the Eagles all three points. The Eagles followed up with a 4-2 defeat of Lesotho in Maseru four days later to fly to the top of the pool, but drew in their home-and-away duels with Sierra Leone last year.
Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr said rediscovering winning mentality is important for the Eagles before going into the FIFA World Cup qualifying battles.
“I am keen for the winning mentality,” he said. “We need it very much and when we rediscover it, we must keep it.”
Qualification in Porto Novo today will guarantee Nigeria’s 19th appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations, having won three times, secured second spot (silver) four times and finished third (bronze) eight times in 18 previous participations.
The Super Eagles will be seeking their first victory in 497 days since they beat Lesotho 4-2 in Maseru in 2019. They have since gone four matches without a win, including throwing away a four-goal first have lead against Sierra Leone at home, according to Sports Village Square.
Nigeria were the opponents of Benin Republic (then called Dahomey) when they played their first ever international match on 8 November 1959.
Porto Novo, the venue of today’s AFCON qualifier was also the venue of the first ever Benin versus Nigeria match on November 8, 1959. Today’s game will be 21st encounter of both teams. Benin Republic have never beaten the Super Eagles in 20 preceding matches, with Nigeria winning 15 and drew five.
In total, Nigeria have scored 55 goals against Benin Republic. The scorer of the very first of the goals is Albert Onyeawuna in a Nigerian 1-0 triumph in Porto Novo in 1959.