Will the pros give Nigeria this day?

Will Uche, Ahmed Musa celebrate on Saturday?

Europe-based stars led by Chelsea ace Mikel Obi have been handed the chance ahead of NPL stars to qualify the Eagles to next year’s AFCON.

Last month, the star-studded Super Eagles were forced to a 2-2 draw by the Lone Star of Liberia in Monrovia.

The return leg in Calabar on Saturday will now determine the team to advance to the 2013 Nations Cup finals in South Africa.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi has worked mainly with players from the Nigeria Premier League (NPL) since he took over the team in November.

But with the domestic league season ended since the first week of September, several of Keshi’s trusted players are either sidelined by injury or lack match fitness.

Keshi had planned to take as many as 10 players from his training camp in Abuja for the NPL players, but in the end he only settled for seven of them as he again expressed concerns over their fitness.

Now only Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe and Ejike Uzoenyi are guaranteed starting places on Saturday.

Therefore the core of the team for Saturday’s showdown against the Lone Star will be players from Europe after Keshi called up as many as 15 of them for this West African clash.

The biggest loss for Nigeria leading into this game is skipper Joseph Yobo, who has been sidelined by a knee injury he suffered while in action for his Turkish club Fenerbache.

“Yobo’s injury is a blow no doubt, we will miss him because of his leadership on and off the pitch, but there are good and capable players the coaches could choose from,” Glasgow Celtic defender Efe Ambrose told MTNFootball.com

“I am sure that any one picked on Saturday will do well and defend well to curtail Liberia. We know they have good strikers, we have good defenders to halt them.”

But the Eagles have been boosted by the return of Chelsea star Mikel Obi, who will hope to assert himself in the midfield, which collapsed so miserably against the rampant Liberians last month. 

Mikel was the last to join the squad after a delay caused by a visa application to Ukraine, but he has shown enough commitment to start his first game under Keshi.

Last October, Guinea upstaged Nigeria right in front of their home fans in Abuja to qualify for the 2012 Nations Cup.

Spain-based striker Ikechukwu Uche, who will lead the Eagles charge for goals on Saturday, said that failure still rankles many months after.

Uche watched from the bench as Nigeria lost chance after chance in the crunch qualifier against Guinea last year, before eventually coming off the bench to shoot Nigeria ahead in the tense encounter that ended in a 2-2 draw.

“I cannot imagine the Eagles not qualifying for the 2013 Nations Cup in South Africa with our advantage. I don’t even want to imagine it,” said Uche.


Uche’s strike partner Emmanuel Emenike, who also featured in that ill-fated game, assured on qualification for next year’s tournament.

“Going to Nations Cup is what we want as a team and I am looking forward to it, that is why I keep praying against ill-luck this time. It is battle to finish and I am sure God will crown our efforts with victory,” said the Spartak Moscow striker.

Liberia’s build-up to this decisive game has been far from smooth.

They lost 4-3 to Niger in a warm-up Niamey earlier this month and are battling over the fitness of first-choice goalkeeper Nathaniel Sherman, while defenders Jimmy Dixon and Omega Roberts have been ruled out by injury.

The team’s arrival to Nigeria was delayed by a day over airport formalities causing the Liberia Football Association (LFA) to accuse their Nigerian counterparts of deliberately trying to frustrate them.

This will most certainly be the biggest game yet for coach Kaetu Smith and his team led by CSKA Moscow star Sekou Oliseh.

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