Nigeria will aim to seal qualification for the next Africa Cup of Nations when they face hosts Benin in a top-of-the-table Group L match on Saturday.
Kick-off at Stade Charles de Gaulle in Porto-Novo is set for 6pm CAT (SA, GMT+2).
The standings heading into this penultimate matchday see Nigeria top, though they have only a one-point lead over second-placed Benin. Sierra Leone (three points) and Lesotho (two) complete the quartet.
Nigeria, thanks to successive draws against Sierra Leone in November 2020 – an amazing 4-4 at home, when they gave up a four-goal lead, and 0-0 away in Freetown – missed out on the chance for early qualification for Cameroon 2022, but nonetheless remain strong favourites to book a place at the finals. In fact, the Super Eagles need only avoid defeat in this clash to guarantee a top-two finish in the group.
Coach Gernot Rohr, who came under fire for the results against Sierra Leone, insists they have put those games behind them: “We have to forget about the mistakes we made against Sierra Leone and we can’t make the same mistake against Benin and Lesotho. The choice for us is to pick the best players and I know our players will have a strong mentality for the matches.”
Benin, meanwhile, did their hopes of securing a second successive Afcon appearance (and a fifth overall) no harm at all when they took four points from successive matches against Lesotho in November 2020, winning 1-0 in Porto-Novo before a 0-0 draw in the return game in Maseru.
The Squirrels will assume pole position in the group if they can overcome their heavyweight opponents, with coach Michel Dussuyer backing his side’s ability to upset the odds.
“We have respect for Nigeria but we also have our assets. We will approach the game with a lot of seriousness and determination,” said Dussuyer. “We know what we have to do. On Saturday our ambition is to win. It will not be an easy task but we have hopes.”
In head-to-head stats, Benin and Nigeria have met in seven previous international matches, dating back to 2004. The Super Eagles have claimed six wins compared to one for the Squirrels. The teams’ Group L meeting in Uyo in November 2019 was won 2-1 by Nigeria, thanks to goals from Victor Osimhen and Samuel Kalu.