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Nigeria ´condemned to win´ versus Mali

25 January 2008 13:13

SEKONDI, Ghana (AFP) - Nigeria said they are 'condemned to win' against Mali in a decisive 2008 Africa Cup of Nations Group B tie, if they are to stay on course for their third championship triumph.

Super Eagles, two-time winners of the Nations Cup, lost their opening match of the tournament to Ivory Coast and are bottom of the standings after Mali beat Benin for the maximum points.

"We have no choice but to beat Mali. We are condemned to win that game as well as our final match against Benin," said Nice defender Onyekachi Apam. "We have the quality to win this cup but we have to prove it on the pitch."

Watford defender Danny Shittu added: "We have to beat Mali to stay in this tournament. We were all disappointed we did not get anything from the Ivory Coast match and that is why we must get it right on Friday."

Under-fire Nigeria coach Berti Vogts has taken responsibility for the loss to the Ivorians and has promised to ring some changes to his starting team with the strike force of Obafemi Martins and Yakubu Aiyegbeni most likely to be changed with either Ikechukwu Uche or Obinna Nsofor getting an early look-in.

Doubts also surround the availability of skipper Nwankwo Kanu, who limped out against the Ivory Coast and has since been training apart from the rest of the squad.

Steaua Bucharest defender Ifeanyi Emeghara will still have no part to play in this tournament as his knee injury has persisted and as such he has had to undergo a scan to ascertain the severity of the problem.

The last time both teams clashed in this competition was four years ago in Tunisia with Nigeria running away with a 2-1 win in a third-place playoff.

Mali though have matured since then with several of their key stars like skipper Mahamadou Diarra, Seydou Keita and Frederic Kanoute stepping up to the big time. Diarra is now at Real Madrid while Keita and Kanoute also now ply their trade in Spain with Sevilla.

"We expect a battle of attrition against Nigeria because they are a good, strong side and still play the physical game they are known for," said Diarra.

"You will have to go a long way back to recall the last time we beat them but we are confident we can get the result we need on Friday."

The other star attraction of the Eagles from Bamako, Kanoute, admitted that it was tough going against Benin, widely considered the whipping boys of Group B, but the victory has set the tone for a satisfying campaign by them.

"It was far from an easy game. Benin fought hard and the task was not made any easier by the heavy pitch. So in the end we were delighted to have picked up the full points. This can only boost our confidence when we play against the top two teams in our group," said the opening day match winner.

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