West African nations Nigeria and Sierra Leone go head-to-head on Sunday, June 18, in a crucial 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
The match is slated for the Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Monrovia, Liberia, as there are no CAF-approved stadiums in Sierra Leone.
The Leone Stars will need to win the encounter to keep their qualification hopes alive; however, a win for the Super Eagles will guarantee them a place in the continental showpiece.
After a poor start to their qualifying campaign, Sierra Leone have turned their fortunes around and put themselves in contention for a place in Ivory Coast later this year.
Keister’s side suffered a 2-1 defeat against Nigeria in their Group A curtain-raiser in June 2022, when goals from Alex Iwobi and Victor Osimhen helped the Super Eagles cancel out Jonathan Morsay’s early strike and turn the game on its head.
Sierra Leone turned in a resilient team perfectly four days later, when they fought back from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw against 10-man Guinea Bissau on home soil.
The Leone Stars returned to action in the qualifiers on March 22, when they came from behind twice to force a 2-2 draw with Sao Tome and Principe, four days before edging out Adriano Eusebio’s men 2-0 in the second of their double-header at the Adrar Stadium.
In that encounter, 21-year-old Abu Bakarr Samura opened the scoring inside the opening seven minutes before Linense forward Alhassan Koroma doubled the lead with a 28th-minute strike to see off Sao Tome.
Sierra Leone are currently third in Group A, four points adrift of second-placed Nigeria, and need all three points to keep their hopes of securing successive AFCON appearances for the first time since 1996.
Nigeria, on the other hand, flew out of the blocks in their quest for a 20th Africa Cup of Nations appearance as they edged out Sierra Leone in their group opener four days before steamrolling Sao Tome and Principe 10-0 at the Stade Adrar.
Jose Peseiro’s men would go on a run of four defeats on the bounce, losing to Algeria, Costa Rica and Portugal in three successive friendly matches, before falling to a disappointing 1-0 loss to Guinea-Bissau in their return to the AFCON qualifiers in March on March 24.
However, the Super Eagles bounced back to winning ways when they picked up a 1-0 victory over Guinea-Bissau in the second of their group double-header three days later courtesy of a first-half penalty from Moses Simon.
The three-time African champions are currently just one point behind first-placed Guinea-Bissau in Group A, albeit with one game in hand, and could seal their spot in Ivory Coast with all three points this weekend.
Next up for Peseiro’s men is a Sierra Leone side who have failed to win their last six meetings — losing four and claiming two draws — and have won just two of their last 17 encounters since April 1961.
Nigeria, who are in search of a third consecutive AFCON appearance, endured an underwhelming run in 2021, where they were sent packing in the round of 16 following a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Tunisia.
Sierra Leone have named a 25-man squad for this weekend’s clash against Nigeria, with the likes of Anderlecht striker Mustapha Bundu and former Tottenham Hotspur man Steven Caulker headlining the team.
Caulker played the entire 180 minutes of March’s double-header against Sao Tome and Principe and should form the back four with Emmanuel Samadia, Abubakarr Samara, and Prince Barrie once again.
Keister has called up 15 home-based players to the squad, including the likes of Joseph Cleveland, Saidu Bah Kamara and goalkeeper Mohammed Kamara, who has 18 senior caps to his name.
Nigeria head into the weekend with a star-studded 23-man squad, including the Premier League attacking trio of Alex Iwobi, Ademola Lookman and Kelechi Iheanacho.
All eyes will be on Victor Osimhen, who fired Napoli to their first Italian Serie A title since 1990, and the 24-year-old will be looking to add to his 15 international goals.
Veteran striker Ahmed Musa, who is Nigeria’s most-capped player with 108 senior appearances, should be named on the bench, while we expect Semi Ajayi and skipper William Troost-Ekong to partner at the heart of the defence
Divine Nwachukwu has been a standout performer for Bendel Insurance in the Nigerian Professional Football League and is one of four home-based players included in the Super Eagles squad.
Who will win the match between Sierra Leone vs Nigeria?
We are counting on Nigeria to pull off a win here. The Super Eagles certainly have a competitive advantage in terms of quality. They have also won three of their four qualifying matches so far this term.
Sierra Leone, on the other hand, has lost five of their last seven matches against lesser opponents. In addition, they have only won one of their four matches in this tournament this term.
Moreover, Nigeria also has an excellent h2h record in the recent history of this matchup.
Sierra Leone vs Nigeria Head-to-Head and Key Numbers:
In 17 head-to-head encounters between the two sides, Nigeria have won 10 games, lost two and drawn five.
Nigerian forward Samuel Chukwueze has 11 goal contributions in 27 league starts for Villarreal this season.
Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen has 30 goal contributions in 30 league starts for Napoli this season.
Nigerian attacker Ademola Lookman has 19 goal contributions in 20 league starts for Atalanta this season.
Nigerian midfielder Alex Iwobi has nine goal contributions in 38 league starts for Everton this season.
Possible starting lineup:
Sierra Leone XI: M Kamara; Samadia, Caulker, Samara, Barrie; Conteh, Dumbuya, Koroma; Williams, N Kamara, Kargbo
Nigeria XI : Adeleye; Sanusi, Troost-Ekong, Ajayi, Bassey; Aribo, Onyeka; Lookman, Iwobi, Simon; Osimhen
Sierra Leone 0-2 Nigeria
While Sierra Leone will be looking to pick up successive wins in the qualifiers, we expect them to struggle against the Super Eagles who should have too much quality to handle. Given the gulf in quality and experience between the two nations, we are backing Nigeria to come out on top this weekend