Veteran Nwankwo Kanu believes Nigeria's failure to reach the last FIFA World Cup™ will help them secure a place at South Africa 2010. "We all know how Nigerians felt watching other African teams steal the show in Germany after we missed out on qualifying," the 32-year-old said.
"Nigeria cannot afford another experience like that and all of us have resolved to do whatever is necessary to reach South Africa. There is a new belief among the players."
The failure of the Super Eagles to make Germany 2006 ranks among the greatest shocks since African Zone qualifying for the FIFA World Cup was introduced almost 50 years ago. Considered certainties to qualify from a group including Angola, Algeria, Gabon, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, they suffered an early 1-0 loss in Luanda and were forced to play catch-up.
Victory became imperative for Nigeria when the countries met again in Abuja, but Angola came from behind to force a 1-1 draw and clinched top spot by winning their final fixture in Kigali. It was a particularly bitter pill for the Super Eagles to swallow, having scored ten goals against Algeria and Zimbabwe in their last two qualifiers, and reached the previous three FIFA World Cups.
The west Africans were the only country to emerge from the second round of the African preliminaries for 2010 with a 100 per cent record, having defeated South Africa, Sierra Leone and Equatorial Guinea home and away. Nigeria are back in South Africa this week, preparing to tackle Mozambique in Maputo on Sunday in a showdown that signals both sides' start to the final phase of qualifying.
"This will be a difficult game and we must sacrifice a lot and be at our best to collect maximum points. The players are up for the match, feeling positive, and believe we can win," said Kanu.
"It is a pity a couple of players are injured because we need everyone who can help the team. All the same, we will work together while counting on the support of all Nigerians."
Defensive general Joseph Yobo from Everton has been ruled out by a hamstring injury, with his place going to France-based Rabiu Afolabi, and striker Chinedu Obasi is another member of the original squad who was forced to withdraw.
The game at the Machava Stadium, recently fitted with artificial turf, will be the second between the nations, with Nigeria winning the other ten years ago.