The quest for a sixth FIFA Senior World Cup appearance will officially kick start for Nigeria this weekend in the city of Ndola where the Super Eagles are billed to face the Chipolopolo of Zambia.
The clash between the Super Eagles and the Chipolopolo will start at 2.30 p.m. Zambia time (1.30 p.m. Nigeria) on Sunday.
PREMIUM TIMES will run a live blog of the match.
While expectations are high on the Super Eagles making it to Russia 2018 World Cup, one must admit that the route to qualification will be a tortuous one.
To qualify, Nigeria will have to overcome African football power houses, Cameroon and Algeria, both housed in Group B.
After years of endless tries and near misses, Dutchman Clemens Westerhorf led Nigeria to her first World Cup appearance in the United States back in 1994.
Since then, the Super Eagles have only failed to qualify for just one edition of the World Cup and that was in 2006 when Germany hosted the Mundial.
Fresh from their Africa Cup of Nations qualification failure, the Super Eagles are keen to redeem themselves and the team have promised to give their all in order to secure one of the five tickets allocated to Africa for the World Cup.
Nigerian captain Mikel John Obi, who has not played any league games for Chelsea this season, said he and his colleagues are eagerly looking forward to getting the group phase started.
“All the other players and myself are fit and ready and we are determined to start the World Cup race on a winning note,” he said.
Obviously not leaving anything to chance, Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr has called up a star-studded side consisting mainly of European-based players.
The team is spearheaded by in-form Manchester City striker, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Alex Iwobi who stars for Arsenal.
Iheanacho got the match winner when Nigeria defeated Tanzania 1-0 in the final match of the 2017 AFCON and has firmly set his sights on helping Nigeria reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“To play in the FIFA World Cup will be a dream come true for me and is going to help my career as a player too,” Iheanacho told cafonline.com.
On his part, Rohr says he’s happy with how they have prepared so far ahead of the 2018 World Cup qualifier against Zambia on Sunday in Ndola.
The Super Eagles beat local side Plateau United 3-0 in a test match in Abuja on Wednesday, and with all invited players all fit and raring to go, Rohr is excited.
“We are happy because we’ve had good training conditions and we have the local players that have replaced the ones that couldn’t make it.
“It’s a new group, a new team and a young team and I am happy to work with them.”
The Franco-German soccer tactician among other areas has also been working on the shooting accuracy of the Eagles as the team was found wanting in their last game against Tanzania.
The statistics showed that while the Super Eagles had 27 shots on target, they could only get a solitary goal which came from Iheanacho.
“We practiced shooting exercises because we noticed it was our shortcoming in Uyo. We cannot be like Nigeria Airways shooting into the skies.
“ We had to work on shooting on target,” Rohr told journalists in Abuja.
While the Nigeria coach has a star-studded team assembled, his Zambian counterpart, Wedson Nyirenda, will depend mainly on local-based stars from the Zambia Super League as the southern African country chases a first-ever appearance at the World Cup.
Going down the memory lane, Nigeria has won six of 16 previous matches against Zambia at international level, drawing five and losing five.
Zambia walloped Nigeria 5-1 in the first –ever encounter, a 1974 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match in Lusaka on July 15, 1973. Nigeria’s 3-2 win in the return leg in Lagos two weeks later was of no effect.
Both teams battled to a 0-0 draw in Accra at the 1978 Cup of Nations, but Zambia then gained two successive 3-0 wins over Nigeria – a friendly in Lusaka in 1981 and a group phase clash at the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations in Libya.
However, the Zambians have not beaten the Eagles in a competitive match in the past 31 years.
Nigeria edged a memorable Africa Cup of Nations final in Tunis in 1994, and then prevailed over the Zambians 5-4 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the quarter –finals of the 2010 Cup of Nations in Angola.
None of the 16 previous clashes was a World Cup qualifying match
The other group game sees Algeria, who have just lost their top ranking position in Africa to Côte d’Ivoire, at home to Cameroon.
After the Zambia test this weekend, the Super Eagles will be hosting Algeria’s Desert Foxes next month in Uyo.
Coaches that qualified Nigeria for the World Cup
USA 1994 –Coach Clemens Westerhorf
France 1998- Philippe Trossuier
Korea/Japan 2002 – Late Amodu Shaibu
South Africa 2010- Late Amodu Shaibu
Brazil 2014- Late Stephen Keshi