One of these two sides will seal a place at Cameroon 2022 with a victory this weekend in a game that promises to be as dramatic as it is exciting
The Benin Republic play host to Nigeria at the Stade Charles de Gaulle on Saturday, knowing that a famous win over their more illustrious West African neighbours would hand them the ticket to the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations.
Nigeria currently sit atop Group L with eight points from four matches, but Benin are just a point behind in second place as both teams remain on course for qualification ahead of their game in Porto Novo.
A defeat for either side would not be the end of the world as the Squirrels enjoying a four-point advantage over third-place Sierra Leone, who trade tackles with basement side Lesotho in the group’s other fixture.
Nigeria Seeking Redemption After Sierra Leone Debacle
The Super Eagles kicked off their qualifying campaign on a winning note back in November 2019 against Saturday’s hosts with a 2-1 comeback triumph at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo.
Another fine 4-2 victory away to Lesotho followed as the three-time African champions flexed their muscles early in the group.
But two disappointing back-to-back draws in their subsequent games against Sierra Leone have thrown a spanner in the works of the Gernot Rohr-tutored side, delaying qualification for the continental heavyweights.
More notable of those stalemates against the Leone Stars was the 4-4 draw at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City, where the Super Eagles blew away a four-goal lead earned inside the opening half-hour.
There was to be no redemption in the return leg in Freetown as Sierra Leone denied the 2013 Afcon kings an early qualification ticket to the chagrin of quite a few green-and-white fans.
The clash against the Benin Republic offers the team the chance to secure Group L’s top spot and Afcon qualification while also presenting the opportunity to repair battered reputation and get back onside with their teeming supporters.
Benin, A Hard Nut At Home
The Squirrels, though, won’t simply roll over and get smashed.
Michel Dussuyer’s men showed enough guts and grit to bounce back from an opening defeat to Nigeria, picking up seven points from the following nine available.
And were it not for a surprising draw to Lesotho in the last round, Benin would have overtaken Nigeria and grab the group’s first place heading to this tie.
This matchday five clash presents the Squirrels with another chance to get one on their proud neighbours while banking on their incredible home record.
The Benin Republic last lost a match at home eight years ago, and Nigeria will have to be at their very best to avoid another upset.
Algeria were the last team to beat the Benin Republic on home soil, with the Desert Warriors claiming a 3-1 victory at the same Stade Charles de Gaulle in a World Cup qualifier in 2013.
Nigeria, however, enjoy a historical advantage over their hosts, who they have beaten in 12 of the 15 previous clashes, losing just once.
Nigeria won none of the four games played in 2020, drawing thrice and losing a friendly encounter to African champions Algeria in Austria.
Despite a challenge with injury and COVID-19 travel restrictions, Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr has assembled a fearsome team that boasts Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, Genk’s Paul Onuachu, and Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho.
Iheanacho, in particular, has been spectacular recently for Brendan Rodgers’s men scoring nine goals in 11 games since the turn of the year.
The 24-year-old accounted for Manchester United’s exit from the FA Cup a few days ago, and he is likely to be tasked with leading the line for his side in this one.
Rohr handed maiden invites to three Nigeria Professional Football League stars and still made room for clubless captain Ahmed Musa but expect the German tactician to stick with his most trusted players.
Benin possible starting lineup:
Allagbe; Roche, Adenon, Hountondji; Assogba, D’Almeida, Ahlinvi, Imorou; Dossou, Djigla, Mounie
Nigeria possible starting lineup:
Okoye; Aina, Balogun, Troost Ekong, Sanusi; Ndidi, Etebo, Aribo; Iwobi, Iheanacho, Osimhen.
Benin are on a four-game unbeaten run beating Sierra Leone, Gabon, and Lesotho, but Nigeria is a different kettle of fish entirely, and it will take a piss poor performance from the Super Eagles to lose this match.
Gernot Rohr’s men are deserved favourites, but Saturday’s affair may be more closely contested than the bookies suggest, though.
With Afcon qualification at stake, fans could be served an exciting match with goals at both ends as the two teams slash at each other’s throats.
Betting Tip: Both teams to score and Nigeria to win.