Swaziland shocked Guinea 2-1 in an AFCON qualifier in June and they will be gunning for another famous win against a team coach Harries Bulunga calls “the Nigerian giants” when both sides clash today in a 2018 World Cup eliminator.
Swaziland 30-year-old captain Tony Tsabedze, who has posted spells in South Africa, scored twice in Casablanca against a team who reached the last-eight of this year’s AFCON in Equatorial Guinea.
Before this famous win, the Kingdom of Swaziland had not won on the road in 20 other attempts in the Nations Cup since 1986.
And leading up to the Guinea game, they defeated Tanzania and Lesotho as well as held Madagascar in the COSAFA Cup.
“We are the underdogs (against Nigeria), we are just a small country trying to establish ourselves in football,” said Bulunga, who leads a country ranked 130th in the world.
“But we’re prepared as we have worked very hard and are now looking forward to the game.
“We don’t have stars, we believe in team work, we are a very united team, who have been together for a long time and we fight for each other and fight for the nation.
“We fight on the pitch to have a level playing ground. So, it will be the quality of Nigeria against the hard work we will all put in.
“We want to make a name for ourselves. We will play to our strengths.”
Bulunga has had a week to train his squad of 23 players from the country’s local league and they have several local conditions working in their favour – the heat, a partisan home crowd and the match will be played on an artificial pitch, which Nigeria’s Europe-based pros could well struggle on.
Nigeria, on the other hand, have thrice been crowned champions of Africa, featured at five World Cups and are ranked 71 spots above their hosts in the FIFA ratings.
However, they are mindful of the fact the home team could still pose a threat in this first-ever meeting with Watford striker Odion Ighalo quick to point out he will approach this tie as he would were he up against Arsenal in the English Premier League.
“There are no small countries in football and so I will prepare to play against Swaziland as I would against Arsenal,” vowed the 26-year-old forward, who will be flanked by jet-heeled wingers Ahmed Musa and Moses Simon.
Coach Sunday Oliseh was equally wary of the threat Swaziland could present particularly in front of an expectant home crowd at the Somhlolo National Stadium in Lobambo.
“They are a very solid side. In these days of football, it’s not easy to put eight goals past a team (Swaziland dumped Djibouti 8-1 on aggregate to set up the clash against Nigeria). And they also beat Guinea. So, it won’t be easy. But I know if we play to our optimum, we will do well,” he predicted.
To match his words with action, Oliseh will line-up a settled starting XI with most recent call-ups Obafemi Martins and Manchester City starlet Kelechi Iheanacho not expected to be thrown into the fray from the onset.