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Interview with Benin Coach on Nigeria Match and World Cup Prospects

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Before the game against Benin Republic, Nigeria were the favorites, especially as both sides were playing on neutral ground. How did you turn things around for your team?

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As a team, we knew we had to perform exceptionally well. I was familiar with the Nigerian team and many of their players. Our biggest motivation was the necessity of winning this game to keep our World Cup dreams alive. Despite being a smaller nation, I told my players that anything is possible if we win these two games. Playing on neutral ground presented its challenges, but we believed we could capitalize on certain factors. The Super Eagles players, although talented and playing for big clubs, were fatigued both mentally and physically after a long season and minimal rest. In contrast, our players were fresher and more motivated. We had the advantage of additional preparation time and a day more of rest compared to Nigeria. These factors contributed to our ability to win.

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Nigeria were leading 1-0, and then Benin turned the game in their favor with a 2-1 win. What did you tell your players?

I told my players that conceding a goal doesn’t mean the game is over. They have the ability to achieve great things on the pitch. I knew the Nigerian players might lose concentration, and even after we conceded, I believed we could still win. The opponents thought they had the game in hand, but we remained focused and determined.

How did it feel reuniting with some of your old players in the Super Eagles?

It felt wonderful. Seeing them again was a joyous experience. The day before the match, there was an explosion of joy, smiles, and emotions as we reunited. It felt like we had never been apart.

Most analysts believe the group is still open. What do you think are the chances of your team qualifying for the World Cup for the first time?

The group is indeed open, with only a four-point difference and six games remaining. The final decision could come down to our match against Nigeria in Uyo. The Super Eagles will likely be stronger with the return of key players like Osimhen, Ekong, and Moses Simon. Our confidence is growing, and although we lack the depth of substitutes, we are a united and motivated team. It’s a tough journey, but we have a chance.

Three points from four games out of a possible 12 points. What do you think are the problems of the Super Eagles?

I believe it’s a matter of defensive concentration. The Super Eagles have talented players like Iwobi and Chukwueze, who were the most dangerous on the pitch. However, sometimes even the best efforts of a coach don’t yield results. Our team is young and fresh, similar to Nigeria’s 2018 World Cup team. We have some players from Nigerian academies, which adds a derby-like motivation to the game.

How do you fancy the qualification chances of teams in Group C?

South Africa is currently the top team. Nigeria still has a chance if they come together with a positive spirit and high motivation. They need to win against Lesotho, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, and possibly South Africa. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible. Benin also has a chance, thanks to our confidence and unity. Nigeria missing the last World Cup was disappointing, and missing another would be a shame for such a football-rich country.

Do you think there’s proper organization in the Nigeria Football Federation?

I’m not here to criticize those who gave me the opportunity to work. Although there were delays in payments, they tried their best. Organizational improvements can be made, such as arriving earlier for important matches. Better preparation, infrastructure, and professionalism are necessary not just in Nigeria but across Africa. Countries like Nigeria should have top-tier infrastructure like Ivory Coast, South Africa, or Morocco.

If you got the chance to coach the Eagles again, is it something you would consider?

Despite my friendship with many of the players and fond memories, I am under contract with Benin until 2026 and always respect my contracts. While anything is possible in football, my current focus is entirely on the Benin Republic. So, this question isn’t one I can answer definitively at the moment.