Nigeria defender Elderson Echiejile wary of Swaziland threat

By Oluwashina OkelejiBBC Sport
Nigeria's Elderson Echiejile
Nigeria's Elderson Echiejile

Defender Elderson Echiejile says Nigeria are not taking anything for granted ahead of the two-legged 2018 World Cup qualifier against Swaziland next week.

The three-time African champions are looking to make a third successive Fifa World Cup appearance in Russia in 2018 after missing out on the 2006 finals.

The Super Eagles are ranked 71 places ahead of Swaziland, and on paper the match should prove to be easy for the West Africans.

But after failing to qualify for the last Africa Cup of Nations and their opponent's emphatic 8-1 aggregate win over Djibouti in the first round, Echiejile has warned that Swaziland pose a strong threat.

"There are no minnows in Africa and the gap in world football is closing all the time," Echiejile told BBC Sport.

"We cannot afford to be complacent or get carried away by the Fifa ranking because Swaziland did not get here by mistake.

"They must be very good in attack to score eight goals; you cannot describe them as underdogs when they produce a result like that.

"As defending champions we failed to qualify for the last Nations Cup and we have to avoid another slump against an unpredictable side,"Echiejile added.

A dominant force at youth level, Nigeria have struggled to replicate that success at the senior level and former captain Sunday Oliseh has been drafted in to turn around their fortunes.

Despite the shock retirements of two senior players last month, Echiejile who plays his club football in France for Monaco remains confident that they are on the right track.

"The new coach wants us to play every game like a cup final and insists people will only judge us by our results," he said.

"No matter what we do, people will always have something to say about our team, unfortunately they tend to focus more on the negatives and it is our priority to concentrate only on the football.

"We lost a friendly to DR Congo but we bounced back from that to beat Cameroon and scored thrice."

Echiejile says their win over the Indomitable Lions has given Nigeria a new impetus to move forward.

"I have noticed a rather different attitude to us since we produced that 3-0 victory over Cameroon in Belgium.

"The mood in the dressing room was unbelievable and the players now understand how important a victory can be to give us a huge lift.

"Our immediate target now is to secure a place in the group stage and we will not underrate Swaziland home and away."

Nigeria will face Sihlangu Semnikati on 13 November and will host the second leg in Port Harcourt four days later, with the winner advancing to the final group phase to decide Africa's five representatives at Russia 2018.