The world cup qualifier between Nigeria and Malawi has captured headlines for all the wrong reasons.
A critical match for the African nations has been preceded by squabbles over venue and accusations of racism.
The row started when Malawi coach Tom Saintfiet questioned the safety of Nigeria's southern city of Calabar, the venue for the decisive World Cup qualifier. Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi reacted furiously calling Saintfiet 'a white dude who should go back to his native Belgium'.
I believe we as Malawi have a strong team and have potential to beat Nigeria
But with the match on Saturday, it's time for both coaches to focus their attention on how they are going to win.
Saintfiet has every confidence in his side.
“I believe we as Malawi have a strong team and have potential to beat Nigeria,” Saintfiet said to Al Jazeera Sport.
The match between Nigeria and Malawi in Group F decides who advances to the playoff round of the African qualifiers for next year’s World Cup, Brazil 2014.
Nigeria lead Group F with nine points and Malawi are second with seven. A win for Malawi, a tricky task against the African champions, and they advance. Nigeria only require a draw to move on to the playoff stage.
Saintfiet is tired of talking about what he tagged the 'racist comments' - a win is all he wants, nothing more.
And there is a big financial incentive for the maanger, who has been promised thousands of dollars if he wins the Nigeria match.
“If I didn’t believe in that, I would be stupid to agree on the deal with Malawi only for the match against Nigeria, because I believe it is possible,” Saintfiet said.
The manager of his rivals, Stephen Keshi, seems to be in a calm mood as he talks on the phone with the wind blowing wildly around him. Despite the controversy, he’s calmly prepared his Super Eagles and warned them not to overlook their opponents.
Keshi, just like Saintfiet, wants to leave previous comments in the past and focus on the game.
“We’re ready for Malawi, everyone is doing well in camp,” Keshi told Al Jazeera Sport.
“It is going great in camp. Preparation is as normal, as we’re used to, I believe so,” Keshi said on his team’s mood and mental state for the match.
While Saintfiet's main concern is a win he was deeply offended by Keshi's comments - as were the Malawi Football Association - who sent a formal complaint to FIFA on their manager's behalf.
"I think everyone knows what I thought about the response of Stephen Keshi. It’s unacceptable that any human being will talk like that about another person," Saintfiet said.
He is unsure how he will approach Keshi for the inevitable and ceremonial handshake between both managers.
I don’t have anything against him, we are colleagues, we shook hands before, I don’t have any quarrels with him; I don’t have any quarrels with anybody
"We will see in that situation. I am not planning things in advance. Everything will sort itself out,” Saintfiet said.
If Saintfiet was attempting to disrupt Keshi, he did for a brief moment, but the former Nigerian national team captain has moved on from that issue and intends to be cordial when both coaches meet.
Keshi plans to welcome his opposing manager.
“I don’t have anything against him, we are colleagues, we shook hands before, I don’t have any quarrels with him; I don’t have any quarrels with anybody," Keshi said regarding the inevitable meeting between both on Saturday in Calabar.
The venue in question, Calabar, has now been deemed safe by the Malawai Football Association (FAM), a different tune compared to a few weeks earlier.
Calabar, one of Nigeria’s oldest trading cities in the southeastern part of the country, is one of the cities flagged as a high risk security area by the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s website, which it advises against travel to.
While Keshi is dealing with the repercussions of his words, Saintfiet has his own critics to deal with after excluding team captain Joseph Kamwendo from the squad.
“That’s a wrong conception of the situation. We are the coaches we are responsible for selection. We base our decisions on performance in clubs and the national team,” Saintfiet said, defending his team selection for the match.
Nigerians are more united, with the media and fans taking to Twitter to coin the hash tag #Malawimustfall. Even though Keshi has a strong team he’s taking a more measured approach. He wants to win but a draw would be satisfactory for his Eagles to advance and he won’t be making any headline remarks that will turn heads this time.
“We're just going to get the best point we can during the day,” Keshi said.
Written by Sulaiman Folarin
Edited by Joanna Tilley
Source: Al Jazeera