AFCON 2021: Fixing defence key for Nigeria

Nigeria had a flying start to their campaign in the African Cup of Nations qualifiers and after the coronavirus hiatus, they will be back in action, with a home game against Sierra Leone. The double header against Sierra Leone in Group L holds a big key towards Nigeria’s qualification.

With two wins in the two coming matches, they will only need one point from the final two matches and that has to be coach Gernot Rohr expectation here. The Super Eagles saw off Benin 2-1 at home and traveled to Lesotho, to beat their hosts 4-2 in their opening games.

While it has been positive for the team on the scoring front, the coach will sure have concerns with the defence after conceding three in their opening two matches of this group. Nigeria are also coming from two winless outings in the international friendly matches that came right before this match. They were beaten 1-0 by Algeria and drew 1-1 with Tunisia, leaving the side so far with a run of just two clean sheets in 13 matches.

Rohr’s success in this match and the entire qualification race will be defined by defensive steel and he knows it, looking at the men he called up for this duty. Zaidu Sanusi has been solid in the FC Porto defence and after featuring in the two friendly matches in October, he will be expected to feature competitively for Nigeria for the first time. Another defender, Leon Balogun, has become a better player since his move from Wigan to Rangers FC and as he heads to his 34th cap, he will be key for Nigeria.

In the eight matches he has featured in this season, Rangers have kept seven clean sheets. The three-time African champions will however miss the crucial Wilfred Ndidi of Leicester City, who is nursing an injury. While they will miss his defensive cover, there is enough attacking prowess in the team to trouble any opposition.

Joe Ayodele-Aribo has been in fine form for Rangers FC and heads to this game having scored twice at the weekend in the 8-0 thrashing of Hamilton. Those were his third and fourth goals in the league and will have a wealth of experienced forwards to work with, including Victor Osimhen, who is finding his footing at Napoli and scored over the weekend.

Osimhen was in fine form before coronavirus struck. He has three goals in the opening two group games and will definitely be relied upon here, alongside Kelechi Iheanacho, who also comes to this game in good form. Iheanacho scored the opener in the 1-1 draw with Tunisia in October, his ninth for the senior team and will be hoping to carry here the good run he has had in the Europa League. He is just from scoring twice in the win over Sporting Braga in Europa League and will form part of a tried and tested forward line.

After finishing third in the 2019 African Cup of Nations, Nigeria will be keen on continuing with the good run. The quality in the 24-man squad called up is not in question and it is easy to identify with Nigeria as the favorites in this game. SportyTrader has some of the best betting sites in Nigeria listed on the Bookmakers tab to check odds for this and other teams.

With Sierra Leone on a poor run, having just one win in their last 11 matches, odds will be stacked against them in this trip to Nigeria. In the last 18 home matches in AFCON qualifiers, Nigeria have suffered just two losses, against Congo and South Africa and they only failed to score once – in the 2-0 loss to South Africa. They have four wins in the last five home matches in the qualifiers, which further boosts their confidence. Having scored two or more goals in the last three matches means they only have to fix the defence and they can start the countdown to another appearance at the AFCON finals.

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