Exactly one month after forcing five-time world champions Brazil to a 1-1 draw in a friendly tie played in Singapore, the Super Eagles of Nigeria return to Uyo to square up against the Squirrels of Benin in the opening match of the qualifying series of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
Earlier in the year, coach Gernot Rohr’s men finished in third place at the 2019 edition of the AFCON hosted by Egypt, a championship where Benin made it to the knockout round of the competition for the first time ever, albeit as one of the best third-placed teams in the group.
Nigeria are three-time African champions and huge favourites to claim a big win over coach Michel Dussuyer’s men but there are very few football minnows left on the continent and a Benin team that held its own against Cameroon, Morocco and Senegal, narrowly losing to the latter in Egypt is not one of them.
Coach Gernot Rohr welcomes back captain Ahmed Musa after a two-month injury layoff and there is a return also for the duo of goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi and defender Kenneth Omeruo after both missed the two friendly games against Ukraine and the Selecao.
Rangers Joe Aribo is set to make his competitive debut for Nigeria and Rohr will hope the Gers’ midfielder can replicate his goalscoring exploits during the friendlies.
Coach Michel Dussuyer has named only 14 players who featured at the AFCON finals in the summer, but notable key players Stephane Sessegnon and Steve Mounie are in the 23-man squad.
Skipper Stephane Sessegnon, 35, is the most experienced player in the Beninoise team having featured 79 times for the Squirrels. The Gençlerbirliği of Turkey forward is also his country’s ever highest goalscorer with 23 goals. He is one coach Dussuyer will be counting on despite his advanced age.
Benin’s first ever recorded international match was a 1-0 loss to Nigeria in Dahomey exactly 60 years ago and a mere two weeks after, in the return leg of that fixture in Lagos, the Green Eagles handed their neighbours a 10-1 defeat, Benin’ heaviest till date.
This fixture has become a close affair in recent years however, with Nigeria not scoring more than two goals against Benin in the last 15 years.
The last time this two met in a CHAN qualifier in 2017, the Super Eagles triumphed 2-0 at the Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano.
Nigeria are the clear favourites having won each of their last four home matches against the Squirrels. But Benin have shown time and again that they are a stubborn opposition.
Anyone expecting a massacre should think again.
However, the home team should have enough quality to ensure a hard-fought, narrow victory.
Betting Tip: Nigeria to win and under 2.5 goals.