Two of Nigeria’s most celebrated stars, Peter Odemwingie and John Obi Mikel, insist the Super Eagles are on the inside track for their much-anticipated clash with Ghana in the semi-finals of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Luanda on Thursday.
The in-form duo make up the nucleus of the Nigerian team as they seek to advance to the final of the continental showpiece, but they both recognise the sizeable hurdle that is a young and ever-improving Ghanaian team.
They have not forgotten how their West African neighbours inflicted pain in their heart when they knocked them out of the 2008 Cup of Nations in Accra two years ago at the quarter-final stage. The two 2010 FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers meet again, but this time a lot has changed according to the Nigerian camp.
“I’m sure everywhere in Nigeria people are talking about this game - it’s a huge match. Whenever we play Ghana, for us, it’s like a derby match,” Odemwingie, the speedy winger, explained to FIFA.com. “It’s a match where a lot is expected of us. But we have been feeling relaxed, we have been preparing for this match patiently. The bottom line is we have to beat Ghana.”
All to play for
The 29-year old Odemwingie has been one of the unqualified shining stars for a Nigerian side that has courted a lot of criticism in this tournament. He tallied a brace in the 3-0 victory over Mozambique that qualified the side from Group C. He admits that inconsistency remains Nigeria’s biggest challenge, but says they will have to overcome that in their last four match.
“To be honest, we haven’t played as well as we should have,” he said. “We have let ourselves down at times. But now we have played three matches without losing. We have our confidence back and the guys are really looking forward to this one. Against Zambia (in the quarter-finals), we gave away a lot of possession. We have to improve, because we cannot afford to make the same mistakes against Ghana.”
On the other hand, Chelsea man Obi Mikel says Nigeria are motivated to upstage their rivals, although he is the first to admit that it won’t be an easy encounter. “They are a good side, but we are really looking forward to this game,” said the midfielder. “The expectations are big back home. We have to repay the faith that our people have shown in this team, even when we were not doing well.
"But if we win this game, we will have a big chance of wining the trophy and that is our priority. It’s what all the guys in the camp are talking about it.”