The three-time African champions will start as favourites to finish top of their qualifying group, but an ex-Premier League defender is hoping to make life difficult for the continental giants
Former Tottenham and Liverpool defender Steven Caulker hopes to help relaunch Sierra Leonean football with a victory over Nigeria when the Leone Stars meet the Super Eagles during the qualifiers for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
The Super Eagles were last month drawn in the qualifying Group A alongside Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and São Tomé and Principe/Mauritius, as the race to Ivory Coast 2023 begins.
Nigeria have only lost twice in 16 previous encounters with Sierra Leone, but the Leone Stars can take a lot of confidence from their last two matches against the Super Eagles.
The African minnows made headlines 0n November 13, 2020, when they came from three goals down to draw 4-4 in Nigeria during the qualifying campaign for the 2021 Afcon.
The two West African neighbours then played out a goalless draw four days later at the Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown to end the two-legged tie with no victor, no vanquished.
Caulker did not play in any of those clashes as FIFA only approved his switch of allegiance from England to Sierra Leone in December 2021.
Both teams eventually qualified for the Cameroon 2021. Still, they endured a miserable tournament, with Sierra Leone finishing third in their group with two points while Nigeria were sent packing by Tunisia in the first knockout round.
Steven Caulker featured in each of the Leone Stars’ three group matches, helping them secure excellent draws against Algeria and Ivory Coast before losing to Equatorial Guinea.
Caulker admits it could be a tough period to face the Super Eagles after their elimination from Qatar 2022 by Ghana’s Black Stars.
But the ex-England youth international vows that the Leone Stars will go into the encounter with the desire to compound Nigeria’s woes.
“Our qualifying group is going to be tough; obviously, Nigeria will be looking to bounce back from their disappointment following their elimination to Ghana in the 2022 World Cup,” the new Sierra Leonean captain told his country’s media as per Cafonline.
“We have to be at our best for every game and against Nigeria is an opportunity to put Sierra Leone on the world football map.
“I’m sure like we did in the last AFCON, we have to be at our best for all games, not just against Nigeria; we should go into every game with the ambition to win it.”
The Super Eagles’ first Afcon 2023 qualifying match is against the Leone Stars in a yet-to-be-named Stadium on June 9, just days after their proposed friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador.