Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tale of two birds: Nigeria vs Sudan

I teamed up with Sudanese football expert, Abdul Musa to preview Saturday's Group A Africa Cup of Nations qualifier between Sudan and Nigeria in Khartoum.

Our thoughts are penned below. Have a pleasant read.

Nigeria's game against Sudan this weekend is surely one of the most important matches the Super Eagles will play in a long while, because Nigeria's qualification hopes for Morocco 2015 might be up in smoke at the midway stage.

The Super Eagles are out on a limb going into the game in Khartoum as a loss of any sort will surely be panic stations for Nigeria.

A 3-2 loss in Calabar in September was followed by a scoreless draw against Bafana Bafana of South Africa in Cape Town four days later to give Nigeria a singe point out of a possible six, a scenario which has made the trip to Sudan potentially exigent.

Coach Stephen Keshi and his wards know that anything short of a win will not do the team's chances any good considering the two top teams in the group, Congo and Sudan are currently on six and four points respectively and they also get to meet each other in a double header.

Depending on how the results pan out between the two sides, the Eagles will have to win both games against Sudan to be fully back in contention before the last batch of matches in November.

In our usual manner, looks at both teams going into the game and dissects the essentials from both sides who are in dire need of points to get back on track towards qualifying for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations to be hosted by Morocco.

Abdul Musa (@pepjunior1)
First up is Sudanese football expert, Abdul Musa who writes in from London, UK. He gives expert views and insights as to what he expects from the game.
His take

After losing the opening two games, Sudan must beat Nigeria in Khartoum to have any hope of qualifying for the tournament.

Consecutive losses against South Africa at home and Congo Brazzaville in Point Noire mean the Falcons of Jediane are yet to register any points in the race for Morocco 2015 and lay bottom of Group A.
Coach Mohamed Abdullah Mazda has selected his 25 man squad to face Nigeria home and away largely consisting of players from Sudan's top two Premier League sides Al Hilal and Al Merriekh.

The Sudanese national team started preparations last Monday, with regular morning/evening training sessions to continue throughout the two match days against the Super Eagles.

Sudan can't afford to sit back too much on Saturday and I predict Mazda will start with two attackers in a 4-4-2 formation where they will be largely reliant on their main front two men Mudathir Kareka (below) and Bakri Abdulgadir to provide the spark in attack and hope the pair spearhead them to victory.

Other key players include Amir Kamal in defence, who has been very consistent with his club side Al Merriekh, and midfield machine Nazar Hamid, who Mazda will be hoping can be his main asset in carrying the ball forward and starting attacks for Sudan.

Sudan will have to be much better defensively than the first two games to even think about getting anything from this game, especially from set pieces where Nigeria look more dominant in terms of height and strength.

Sudan's Falcons of Jediane. Pic courtesy Getty Images

It is very important that Sudan are clinical in front of goal. Chances will be at a premium and if not taken, they will struggle against this Nigerian side filled with world class individuals who are easily capable of making the difference at any given point in the game.

I predict a very feisty and well-contested match between the two sides who both have started the campaign poorly and are looking to catch up with the Congo and South Africa.
On paper, Nigeria are clear favourites, but Sudan in Khartoum are definitely no pushovers.

Next up is Andrew Randa, our resident Super Eagles expert who runs the rule on Stephen Keshi's team as they go into Sudan in search of points to kick start their Afcon 2015 qualifying campaign.

Andrew Randa (@RandaAndrew)
Nigeria's scorecard after the first two qualifying games threw up a lot of questions with fans and pundits alike going for coach Stephen Keshi's jugular, accusing the former Togo coach of biased selections and technical ineptitude.

In a country where football is like a religion, this wasn't totally unexpected as Nigerians, still basking in the euphoria of the Afcon 2013 win and a second round finish at the World Cup in June, felt the team has regressed.

Keshi and his wards know that the die is cast and nothing short of a point in Khartoum will do their cause any good, as he will also hope his first choice striker Emmanuel Emenike, breaks his international goal duck of nine games without a goal.

The Super Eagles have to improve in the midfield where Congo ran Nigeria ragged in the first game in Calabar. There was little or no creativity in the middle and the Eagles didn't work hard enough to close down the Congolese, thereby creating problems for the defence.

Keshi probably understood this and called up creative midfielder Raheem Lawal to shore up that area and provide the ammunition for the likes of Emenike to thrive on.

The defence have to be on their toes for the full duration of the game because Sudan do have pace in attack and will be buoyed by their ever vociferous fans in the 30,000 capacity stadium in Khartoum.

I expect Keshi to go with his favored 4-3-3 formation, with Emmanuel Emenike at the tip of the attack, ably supported by Ahmed Musa, whose pace and form on match day I believe will be crucial to Nigeria getting anything from the encounter.

Super Eagles team photo.Pic courtesy BackpagePixs

Sudan will probably come out blazing, looking to catch Nigeria out early in the game and that's where the Eagles can use that to their advantage. Soak up the anticipated early onslaught and hit the Falcons of Jediane on the break.

The die is cast. Will Sudan capitulate again at home to Nigeria like they did in 2001 when Nigeria won 4-0, or do one over the reigning African champions?

I believe Nigeria will get something out of the game if they can soak up the early pressure I anticipate the Sudanese will throw at them.

Soar Super Eagles, soar.

Follow them on twitter for more football talk and banter

@RandaAndrew / @pepjunior1

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