After booking their place in the knockout stage of the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, having beaten Burundi and Guinea 1-0 apiece, the Super Eagles are leaving no stone unturned in their quest to amass the maximum nine points as the play their final group game against Madagascar at the Alexandria Stadium on Sunday
The Super Eagles started their Africa Cup of Nations campaign on a shaky note against Burundi last Saturday but managed a narrow 1-0 win, courtesy of Odion Ighalo’s strike.
With an improved performance against the Guineans on Wednesday, it was also a narrow win through an unlikely scorer, Omerou, to make it six points from two matches and a place to the second round of the competition.
However, to maintain the winning mentality, the Super Eagles are set for another win in their last group game against Madagascar.
Reacting after the victory over Guinea, Nigeria’s team manager, Gernot Rohr, expressed satisfaction with his team’s display against the Syli Nationale and he is now aiming to end their group outing on a high against Madagascar on Sunday.
“It was a good performance from the team today, we played really well though it was a tough game from Guinea,” Rohr said after the game. I am happy we could deal with the danger they posed and being the first into the round of 16 is a joy for us. Now we have to ensure we finish off well against Madagascar in our last game to top the pool,” the German-born tactician said.
In a chat with THISDAY, former Nigerian international, Friday Ekpo said the team should go for the broke against Madagascar to at least put the players in a winning mood.
“Staying in a winning mood is always very important in a competition. It keeps the players in a winning mentality and focus.
“After the slow and shaky start Super Eagles first game against Burundi, the team showed much improvement in the second match against Guinea and a lot of Nigerians expect to see a better performance against Madagascar come Sunday,” Ekpo said.
Meanwhile, Super Eagles have been charged to step up their games and win convincingly in their subsequent matches at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and not depend on edging past their opposition.
That was the message passed across by the trio of Shaun Bartlett, Laryea Kingston and coach Gavin Hunt who spoke as studio analysts on Super Sport late Wednesday night as Nigeria eased to the Round of 16 stage of the AFCON in Egypt.
Former South Africa striker and key member of the Bafana Bafana squad that won the 1996 AFCON on home soil, Bartlett, hailed the attacking talents on the Nigerian side but nonetheless expressed his reservations. “Nigeria are a very attacking team but they find it difficult to break down the opponents,” the one-time Charlton Athletic striker noted.
“You have to be in the right positions and take your chances. Ighalo should have crossed the ball for Ahmed Musa and it would have been a simple tap in, not apologise after missing the chance,” said Bartlett, a reaction which drew laughter from other analysts.
“The Super Eagles can make changes for the Madagascar match. That is the beauty of it and I feel we’ll see the best of the Nigerian team in the knockout stages,’ Bartlett opined.
Former Black Stars star Kingston stressed that winning must come with better performances for Gernot Rohr’s team. “In a game of football, you have to perform well before you win games. How many times are you going to perform badly and (hope to) win your games.
“Nigeria need to start winning games convincingly because as the competition progresses if you don’t perform well against difficult opponents they will punish you for that.
“Guinea were careful. They were very tactical. They knew that they can be punished by Nigeria that is why they played defensively,” Kingston stated.
Like Bartlett, Super Sport FC head coach Gavin Hunt also berated Ighalo for not laying the ball on a plate for a well placed Musa to score. The tactician then added: “Guinea ‘didn’t want to play’ – they didn’t want to come out so if you are facing such teams you push the ball forward a lot quicker.
“I think they (Nigeria) will improve as the tournament progresses. Sometimes it’s a mentality thing. Sometimes players go ‘who are we playing against. But they need to sort out these things,” Hunt concluded.
After seeing off the ‘tough’ challenge from Burundi on Thursday, Madagascar coach Nicolas Dupuis, said he is pleased with the team’s hard-fought victory as they edge closer to securing a spot in the last-16 round.
“I am so happy because of this victory. It was our first in the history of the AFON and we worked hard for it,” Dupuis said after the game.
“It was not an easy match because Burundi gave us a tough time especially in the second half. But we can be proud of our efforts, we can be proud of what we achieved but the work is not yet over. We still have Nigeria to think about.”
Madagascar are second in Group B with four points after two matches, two points behind Nigeria.