It will be folly of me as the coach of a team to think of losing. So, I’m very very optimistic and positive.
Nigeria’s journey to a third consecutive appearance at the African Nation Championships starts with a first leg qualifying fixture at neighbours Benin Republic on Sunday.
The Super Eagles had an underwhelming participation in the last edition in Rwanda, exiting at the group stage after a record of one win, one draw and an excruciating loss to Guinea. Under Salisu Yusuf, a new look team which has just five of the remnants from Rwanda will attempt to set their feet on the right path at the Stade de l’Amitie.
Key among the team’s new stars is Afeez Aremu, one of the unsung heroes of an Akwa United side churning out impressive displays in the second half of the league season. Aremu was excited to make the final cut ahead of Sunday’s game.
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“I’m really so excited to be among the 20 players selected for this game,” Aremu told www.aclsports.com from the team’s Hotel Royale base in Cotonou.
“I am going to fight like never before to stamp my position in the team and also make my country Nigeria qualify for the 2018 CHAN in Kenya.”
Aremu is one of four Akwa United regulars in the team and the former Sunshine Stars midfielder believes the synergy among them can act as a springboard to the national team’s success over two legs against Benin Republic.
“We understand ourselves a lot and we don’t even need to discuss anything between ourselves because we play together in the same team (Akwa United). If we are fielded together, we will work to grab the coaches’ instructions to our game and our partnership can help the team to succeed.”
Both Aremu and the team’s assistant coach, Imama Amapakabo remain confident that the team will get a good result against the Squirrels on Sunday.
“I am very sure and promising Nigerians the best result here on Sunday,” defensive midfielder, Aremu concluded.
For Amapakabo, the 1985 FIFA Under-16 Championships Winner emphasized the quality of players available to the team.
“To our thinking, I think we have arguably the best set of players with us in Cotonou. Unfortunately we are in a society where everybody thinks that they know. We have to contend with that but we tried to get the best that we think is what we have on ground,” Amapakabo told www.aclsports.com
Amapakabo led Rangers to the league title last season and knows the importance of home comfort in African football. His Rangers side drew just three out of their 18 home games, winning the rest en route to the league conquest. Amapakabo conceded the home advantage to hosts Benin on Sunday but believes hosting the second leg in Kano has its own benefit too.
“It is an advantage all the time when you play home. The Beninoise have the advantage on Sunday and we also believe we have the advantage of playing away because if we get a good result, we will come back home to nail it.”
Amapakabo also remains optimistic of a favourable result on Sunday.
“It will be folly of me as the coach of a team to think of losing. So, I’m very very optimistic and positive. Although in a 90-minute game anything is possible, I still believe come Sunday God-willing we should be able to get it right,” Amapakabo concluded.