Saturday Aug 06, 2016. 15:33
African champions Nigeria go into their second group game at the Rio Olympics Sunday against European champions Sweden very much aware their defence cannot afford to gift goals like they did against Japan on opening day action.
READ: We performed a miracle says Siasia
Sunday’s showdown between continental champions Nigeria and Sweden will kick off at 11 pm Nigerian time at the same Amazonia Arena in Manaus, where Dream Team VI let in four goals against Japan.
But for the opportunism of four-goal hero Oghenekaro Etebo, Nigeria’s campaign could well have got off to a losing start.
The central defence combo of William Troost-Ekong and Sincere Seth, better known as a right back, struggled to contain Japan on Friday as Stanley Amuzie, who gave away a penalty to further fuel growing doubts about his defensive capabilities.
Tiredness caused by landing in Brazil barely six hours before kick-off has been given as excuse for the team’s disastrous defending.
However, what cannot be argued is that the defence has missed Nath Boys FC of Lagos star Segun Oduduwa, who for all his rough edges was the heart and soul of the back-four from the inception of this team.
There have been suggestions that South Africa-based goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi could well replace Rangers shot stopper Emmanuel Daniel for this fixture.
Daniel was the man in goal when Denmark trounced the Nigeria U23s 6-3 in an invitational game in South Korea earlier this year.
Incidentally, Sweden walloped their Scandinavian rivals Denmark 4-1 in the semi-final of last year’s UEFA U21 Championship on their way to be crowned European champions.
Their strikers Mikael Ishak and Astrit Ajdarevic were on target in the 2-2 opening day draw with Colombia.
Such is the quality of their attack that Valmir Berisha, who was top scorer at the 2013 FIFA U17 World Cup, was only a stoppage time sub.
But as much as the Nigeria defence has struggled, their strike force has flourished even with leading scorer and new Al Ahly signing Junior Ajayi warming the bench for the entire Japan game.
Etebo has caught the attention with his double brace and Roma youngster Sadiq Umar justified his surprise start with a goal, an assist and caused a penalty as well as put in a decent shift on a hot and humid night.
Imoh Ezekiel, who has featured for top Belgian clubs Anderlecht and Standard Liege, will again be a factor with his dashes down the right wing.