24 January 2013

Nigeria/Zambia: Psyched-Up Super Eagles Face Crucial Test Against Confident Zambia

Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix
Emmanuel Emenike of Nigeria, no. 9, celebrates his opening goal in Friday's encounter with reigning champions Zambia. Five minutes before the end of the match, Nigeria conceded a penalty, and Zambian goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene equalised for the champions.

Zambia and Nigeria were expected to be the front-runners in Group C at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, but both were held to disappointing draws in their opening matches.

Take nothing away from their opponents, but having been a man and a goal up against Ethiopia in their opener, African champions Zambia would have expected to hold on for the win, only to finish 1-1.

Nigeria were pegged back in their opening match too, with the final kick in their game against Burkina Faso ending the fixture with the same scoreline.

The results of both openers add extra significance then to their meeting in Nelspruit on Friday. The loser will have a real battle to qualify for the quarter-finals.

The draw with Burkina Faso not surprisingly caused much angst in Nigeria, with the football association apparently sitting down with coach Stephen Keshi to tell him the nation expects better.

That is no more than a show to the people of Nigeria that the authorities will hold the team accountable, a lot of huffing and puffing which is of no real help to anybody. It puts unnecessary pressure on the coach, telling him something he already knows.

Keshi for his part seems to think his side’s problems are mental rather than a lack of ability: "The next game is very important against Zambia," he says. "I will take my time to psyche up [the Super Eagles] and bring them to the best of their ability. Zambia is a very good team so let's wait until Friday and see what happens."

One of the keys to Nigeria's success may be the return to fitness of Chelsea midfielder Victor Moses, who missed the Burkina Faso game through injury - though some reports say he was dropped for poor form.

Not according to Keshi though: “We hope he is fit for Zambia, because at the last practice game in Portugal he had a hamstring injury,” the coach said. “Two days ago, he showed the injury came back so I decided to leave him out because we have a lot of games ahead and I need him for them... Playing him [against Burkina Faso] would have been a risk.”

Zambia coach Herve Renard has already written off the chances of Nigeria in this tournament, earning the ire of many a scribe from that country.

He is confident his side will put up a better display against the Super Eagles.

"We are going to reach the quarter-finals,” he said. “The performance [against Ethiopia] is my responsibility as coach. I saw the team in the first half didn't play well and we didn't play like we were ready for the Africa Cup of Nations."

One thing is for sure, a draw will suit neither side. That should bring out the best of them in attack.

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