Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers: Nigeria, Sierra Leone get the ball rolling in Group A

Nigeria and Sierra Leone will get the ball rolling in Group A of the Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers when they go head to head at the Abuja National Stadium on Thursday.

The Super Eagles, who are gunning for a third consecutive appearance at the continental showpiece, are currently on a five-game winless run and will look to end this dry spell.

Sierra Leone were last in action on March 29, when they claimed a 2-1 victory over Congo in a friendly fixture at the Mardan Sports Complex.

Tottenham teenager Kallum Cesay turned in a performance of the highest quality as he scored twice in the second half to put the Leone Stars ahead before Vieljeux Prestige Mboungou pulled one back from the penalty spot in the 89th minute.

Prior to that, John Keister’s men saw their three-game winless run come to an end when they secured a slender 1-0 win away to Liberia on March 27.

While Sierra Leone will look to pick up a third consecutive victory and get their AFCON qualifier campaign off to a flyer, next up is the challenge of taking on an opposing side who are unbeaten in each of the last five meetings between the teams, claiming three wins and two draws since a 1-0 loss in 2001.

Nigeria, on the other hand, failed to find their feet last Friday as they fell to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Ecuador when the sides squared off in a friendly fixture.

Villarreal full-back Pervis Estupinan struck the only goal of the game inside the opening three minutes to hand Gustavo Alfaro’s side a slender victory at the Red Bull Arena.

This followed a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Mexico on May 25, when Cyriel Dessers cancelled out Santiago Gimenez’s first-half opener, before William Troost-Ekong scored an own goal to hand El Tri the victory.

Nigeria have now failed to taste victory in each of their most recent five games across all competitions, picking up two draws and losing three since claiming three consecutive wins in Group D of the 2022 AFCON back in January.

The Super Eagles, who are aiming for a third consecutive Africa Cup of Nations appearance, are unbeaten in each of their last six qualifying games, claiming four wins and two draws in that time.

Following Nigeria’s failure to reach the World Cup, Augustine Eguavoen was relieved of his role in charge of the Super Eagles, with Portuguese head coach Jose Peseiro recently earning the role.

The 62-year-old has drawn up a 27-man list for the upcoming AFCON qualifiers, including the likes of Alex Iwobi, Leicester City’s Ademola Lookman and full-back Zaidu Sanusi, who won the Primeira Liga title with Porto.

Napoli star Victor Osimhen, who netted 14 goals in 27 outings in the Serie A, has been recalled to the squad, alongside captain and Fatih Karagumruk forward Ahmed Musa.

At the defensive end of the pitch, Semi Ajayi and Watford man William Troost-Ekong played the full 180 minutes in the friendly games against Mexico and Ecuador and should partner at the heart of the defence once again.

Twenty-five-year-old midfielder Joe Aribo and veteran defender Leon Balogun, who were part of the Rangers side that suffered a defeat in the Europa League final, have also been included.

Sierra Leone have named 25 players to lead them to the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2023, including the likes of Queens Park Rangers’ Osman Kakay and Tottenham midfielder Kallum Cesay.

We expect Kiester to stick to his proffered 4-3-3 formation with a back four of Osman Kakay, Alie Sesay, Steven Caulker and Kevin Wright, shielding Nbalie Kamara in goal.

Further up the pitch, Mohamed Buya Turay should spearhead the attack, teaming up with Wycombe Wanderers’ Sullay Kaikai and 22-year-old Musa Noah Kamara.

Nigeria possible starting lineup:
Uzoho; Aina, Troost-Ekong, Ajayi, Sanusi; Aribo, Etebo; Lookman, Iwobi, Simon; Osimhen

Sierra Leone possible starting lineup:
Kamara; Kakay, Sesay, Caulker, Wright; Conteh, Cesay, Quee; Turay, Kamara, Kaikai

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