The Senior National Team of Nigeria, Super Eagles, remained in very high spirit on Tuesday, 24 hours to the 2013 African Cup of Nations qualifying match against the Amavubi Stars of Rwanda in Kigali.
A delegation of players, technical and administrative officials, some members of the NFF Executive Committee, Secretariat staff, stakeholders, media representatives and members of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club flew into Kigali in the early hours of Tuesday for the big match.
Before departure, Sports Minister Bolaji Abdullahi met with the team at its Bolton White Apartments hotel in Abuja and urged them to go and do Nigeria proud in order for the country to banish unsavoury memories of failure to qualify for the recently-concluded 2012 African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
"You all have a choice between giving us reasons to continue to dwell on the unhappy recent past or to look to the future with fresh hope and belief. I believe in what Coach Stephen Keshi has been doing and from the way our people have received his idea of giving home-based players equal opportunities to fight for shirts in the team alongside the foreign-based pros, it is certain that he is onto a good thing.
"On our part as the National Sports Commission, we will continue to give the Aminu Maigari-led NFF all the support that is necessary for it to re-energize and re-strategise for the future of our football", said Sports Minister Bolaji Abdullahi. NFF President, Alhaji Aminu Maigari assured the Honourable Minister/Chairman of the National Sports Commission of the readiness of the players to positively do the business in Kigali.
Players and officials met France-based goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, Spain-based Ikechukwu Uche and Italy-based Joel Obi at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport hours later - the trio having just flown into the country aboard a Lufthansa Airline flight. Departure aboard the chartered RwandAir Airline airplane was unusually delayed by immigration procedure, leading to a situation whereby a number of stakeholders and members of the Supporters Club were left behind as the pilot made a quick get-away before closure of the Abuja airspace.
The aircraft landed at the Kigali International Airport at 4.15am Rwanda time (3.15am Nigeria time) after an uneventful four-hour flight, and the delegation was met on arrival by Nigeria's High Commissioner to Uganda (also overseeing Rwanda), Ambassador Fidel Ayogu, Mission Staff and officials of the Rwandan Football Federation. Other top officials from the Nigerian High Commissioner in Uganda were Mr. Wale Okunlola, Minister/Head of Chancery, Mr. Walter Ajobo (Minister), Mr. Mohammed Musa (Minister) and Mr. Innocent Odu (Minister/Counsellor).
The team is staying at the Novotel Hotel. A stroll through the popular streets in Kigali confirmed that effervescent winger Osaze Odemwingie is a hit with Rwandan fans. On June 5, 2005, in a FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Amahoro Stadium, Odemwingie set up Obafemi Martins for Nigeria's equalizer with few minutes left to play.
At the pre-match meeting held at the offices of Rwandan Football Federation, beside the Amahoro Stadium, refusal by the host Federation to change its green socks led to a brief stalemate, with the Nigeria team having opted for all-green attire. The Rwandans presented yellow top with blue stripes and blue shorts but oddly, with green socks.
This led to the Nigeria delegation saying it would get back to the match commissioner later in the day on its choice - whether to wear the all-green attire with white socks or wear all-white attire. Chairman of the NFF Technical Committee, Barrister Chris Green, was not impressed. "The Rwandans are the hosts and you would expect them to concede to such a minor request from the referee. Since they have refused, we would have to seek the opinion of the Head Coach, Mr. Keshi on this matter".
Safety and security issues also dominated discussions at the pre-match meeting as the Nigeria team raised issues about the environment of the Stade Regionale de Nyamirambo - venue of Wednesday's match. However, South African referee Daniel Bennett, who will be at the centre, charged both teams to observe fairplay and do nothing with malice.
The Super Eagles filed onto the artificial turf of the stadium at 3.30pm, for their only training session ahead of the big match on Wednesday. NFF President Aminu Maigari said on Tuesday evening. "We have come here with firm belief that we would win, having prepared well. But I have also told the players not to under-rate the Rwandan team because they have a good team, no doubt".