The home-based Super Eagles will play Benin Republic in the first leg, second round qualifier of the 2018 African Nations Championship at the Stade de l’Amitié in Cotonou on Sunday.
The return fixture comes up at the Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano, a week later, with the winners qualifying for the championship scheduled for Kenya early next year.
After Nigeria failed to qualify for the first two editions of the competition reserved for footballers plying their trade in their countries’ domestic leagues, the Super Eagles won the bronze medal at the third edition in 2014. They however could not make the knock-out stage at the fourth edition in Rwanda early last year.
The Squirrels set up the showdown with Nigeria after defeating Togo 9-8 on penalties in Cotonou after score stood 2-2 on aggregate.
Coach Salisu Yusuf selected 20 players for Sunday’s 2018 African Nations Championship qualifying match away to Benin Republic.
IfeanyiUbah goalkeeper IkechukwuEzenwa, Enugu Rangers trio Orji Kalu, Ifeanyi George and OsasOkoro; Akwa United midfielder Alhassan Ibrahim (Akwa United) and forward Stephen Odey, the MFM striker who tops the scorers chart in the domestic league, top coach Salisu Yusuf’s 20-man squad for the crucial tie.
Akwa United defender Emmanuel Ariwachukwu, a member of the squad, say the CHAN Eagles cannot afford to take hosts Benin lightly in the playoff in Cotonou.
“There are no longer any easy games, even in the friendlies we have played, they were not easy at all,” he told ScoreNigeria.com.ng
“Now everybody knows how to play football and the most important thing is to win the game and make everybody happy.”
Meanwhile, Egypt debut in the competition this weekend at home to Morocco, ending a nine-year absence from the competition.
Matches in the biennial competition carry full international status despite being restricted to footballers registered with clubs in their country of birth.
It was introduced by CAF in 2008 amid concerns that home-based stars were getting few national team opportunities with compatriots playing in Europe dominating squads.
The Nations Championship has grown quickly in popularity and crowd appeal and 49 of 54 CAF members entered the 2018 tournament.
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