*Egyptian fans give Nigeria thunderous welcome
Femi Solaja in Cairo
Ahead of tomorrow’s quarter-final clash with the Bafana Bafana of South Africa, the Super Eagles of Nigeria arrived the ancient city of Cairo few minutes before noon yesterday for the cracker scheduled to hold at the 75,000 capacity Cairo International Stadium.
The arrival was 24 hours ahead of what Head Coach, Gernot Rohr had planned but the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of Egypt 2019, as expected, refused Nigeria’s wish to stay longer than necessary at the coastal city of Alexandria which had housed the team for over three weeks.
The Super Eagles had a light work out in Alexandria and will trained again not too far away from their Le Meridien Heliopolis Hotel camp here in Cairo today.
On arrival in the city, the team was welcomed by numerous soccer loving Egyptians who now wished Nigeria should avenge the defeat of Pharaohs of Egypt by South Africa for them.
THISDAY checks showed that the Nigerian team will have an overwhelming support from the locals as well as numerous Nigerian populace here in Cairo during the match tomorrow.
“Nigggggeriiiiaa, Niggerriaa” rented the air when the Egyptians sighted Eagles bus arriving for training. The same gesture was showered on the team on arrival into the city earlier in the day.
“We are happy that we are going to feel at home on Wednesday during the match. It give the team a psychological boost similar to what we have enjoyed in Alexandria,” coach Rohr said after the evening training.
“My players will be facing a much bigger crowd in a big stadium. You will expect some sort of stage fright but we have to brace up against another big team who has eliminated the host nation, Egypt hence it is not going to be a small match as most people had expected,” the Eagles coach said as a matter of fact.
The1996 champions, South Africa altered the form-book when they shocked host nation Egypt 1-0 at the Cairo International Stadium on Saturday evening, to set up another clash with familiar foes Nigeria. Bafana Bafana defeated Eagles 2-0 in the very first game of the qualifying series in Uyo last year but Nigeria forced a 1-1 draw in Johannesburg.
Saturday’s feat against Cameroon was the sixth time that Nigeria will eliminate a defending champion from the tournament.
In 1976, a young squad captained by Christian Chukwu mauled then Cup holders Zaire (now DR Congo) 4-2 in Ethiopia, and in 1984, Nigeria edged Cup holders Ghana 2-1 in Cote d’Ivoire.
In 1994, on the road to winning a second title, the Super Eagles sent packing Cup holders Cote d’Ivoire after penalties in the semi final, and in 2004, bundled out Cameroon (winners in Mali in 2002) 2-1 in a quarter-final match in Monastir, Tunisia.
Two years later, incidentally in Egypt, the Super Eagles ejected Cup holders Tunisia after penalties in an interesting quarter-final match in Port Said.
… Players’ Fitness Excites Rohr
Super Eagles Head Coach, Gernot Rohr is delighted to have a complete team for the first time since the tournament began two weeks ago.
Ahead of the quarter-final clash against South Africa tomorrow in Cairo, all the injured players have been given clean bill of health thus making the coach not to have too much stress in filling the gaps.
Team captain, John Obi Mikel, who played no part in the last match against Cameroon has handed the coach selection boost when he completed the training session of the squad on Sunday night and yesterday evening.
It is not yet clear whether the former Chelsea stalwart will get a start shirt or from the bench on Wednesday.
“It’s a major boost for Eagles that the team captain is fully back and I’m particularly glad that all the injured players have recovered and ready to play positive part in our quest to progress to the next phase of the tournament.
“When a coach is in this situation, the problem is half solved but one major obstacle that it also creates is that it brings selection problem.
“The question now is do you drop or substitute a player that played well in the last match for another first team player? The answer is simple and at same time difficult. Just like I did in the last match, my selection would be based on whatever formation we are adopting against South Africa.
“We have to think deep what our opponent want to come up with. Their strength and weakness will determine who will start and who will not play any part at all.
“Overall, I’m delighted that I have a complement of a full squad for the match,” Rohr explained last night.
Shehu Abdulahi who was missing in action is also back and took part in the training session yesterday evening.
Just like in the previous round, the Eagles dedicated almost half an hour perfecting penalty kicks to avoid a repeat of what happened to the team when it lost in shoot out to Cameroon in 2000 edition which Nigeria lost 2-4 after 2-2 scoreline at 120 minutes.