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‘NFF moved 2021 AFCON qualifier from Asaba to Benin on technical grounds’

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• Eagles recall Akpeyi; Uzoho, Ezenwa, Nwakali on standby for Sierra Leone game

Facts have emerged on why the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) moved the 2021 AFCON qualifier between the Super Eagles and Leone Stars of Sierra Leone from its original venue, Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba, Delta State, to Benin City, Edo State capital.

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In February this year, NFF General Secretary, Mohammed Sanusi, issued a statement announcing that the 15,400 – capacity Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba, would host the Super Eagles versus Leone Stars in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying match. Then, the game was scheduled for Friday, March 27, 2020. But the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which crippled sports and business activities around the world, forced the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to postpone the match.

However, the NFF made a u-turn last week by moving the match to the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City, Edo State.

An official of Delta Sports Commission told The Guardian yesterday that the choice of Benin City for the 2021 AFCON qualifier between Nigeria and Sierra Leone was on ‘technical ground.’

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He said: “We actually prepared to host the match, but our government has since converted the Stephen Keshi Stadium, Asaba to a COVID-19 isolation centre. To move the equipment from the stadium will take some time. Apart from that, it will be difficult to get the pitch ready for such a big match within a few days. The NFF must have put all these into consideration.

“We are not angry about the sudden change of venue. The choice of Benin City for the match is okay. Maybe, before the next game, the government would have moved the COVID-19 isolation centre from Stephen Keshi Stadium.”

The Asaba stadium, named after former Super Eagles captain and coach, late Stephen Okechukwu Keshi, has hosted several international events, including Asaba 2018 African Senior Athletics Championship, as well as matches involving the Super Eagles and the Nigeria U23 squad since it was opened two years ago.

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The Cranes of Uganda were Super Eagles’ first opponents at the venue, a friendly match, few days after Nigeria qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa in November 2018. The match against Uganda ended goallessly.

MEANWHILE, Super Eagles Coach, Gernot Rohr, has recalled South Africa-based goalkeeper, Daniel Akpeyi, to his team for the qualifier, while home-based goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Cyprus-based Francis Uzoho, and former Golden Eaglets captain, Kelechi Nwakali are on standby.

Also called up for the game are Captain Ahmed Musa, defender William Ekong, midfield enforcer Oghenekaro Etebo, and 21 others.

Nigeria’s leading marksman in the series, Victor Osimhen returns after missing out of this month’s friendlies against Algeria and Tunisia, just as midfielder Joseph Ayodele-Aribo and South Africa –based goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi.

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Switzerland –based goalkeeper Sebastian Osigwe will hope to earn his first cap for Nigeria, while defenders Kevin Akpoguma and Zaidu Sanusi, who impressed in the friendlies in Austria, have been handed opportunities to add to their caps.
 
There are seven players on standby, including defender Abdullahi Shehu, Uzoho, Ramon Azeez and Samson Tijani, and forward Paul Onuachu.
 
According to thenff.com, the players are expected to report at the Protea Hotel Emotan in Benin City on November 9. The players called up are:

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Goalkeepers: Daniel Akpeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa); Sebastian Osigwe (FC Lugano, Switzerland); Maduka Okoye (Sparta Rotterdam, The Netherlands).
 
Defenders: Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain); Leon Balogun (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland); Chidozie Awaziem (FC Boavista, Portugal); William Ekong (Watford FC, England); Olaoluwa Aina (Fulham FC, England); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England); Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal); Kevin Akpoguma (TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Germany)

Midfielders: Oghenekaro Etebo (Galatasaray, Turkey); Tyronne Ebuehi (FC Twente, Netherlands); Frank Onyeka (FC Midtjylland, Denmark); Joseph Ayodele-Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland).

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Unattached); Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Emmanuel Dennis Bonaventure (Club Brugge, Belgium); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Victor Osimhen (Napoli FC, Italy); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Chidera Ejuke (CSKA Moscow, Russia).

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