The arrivals on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning of goalkeepers Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Daniel Akpeyi have helped bring down the blood pressure of technical officials of the Super Eagles ahead of the two international friendly matches against Senegal and Burkina Faso.
Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr and his assistants had been in a state of worry, understandably so, following an apparent goalkeeping crisis, as first choice Carl Ikeme arrived at the Crowne Plaza London Ealing hotel with injury and deputies Ezenwa and Akpeyi were held back by visa hitches in Nigeria and South Africa.
Nigeria –based goalkeeper Ezenwa eventually got his visa on Tuesday evening and flew out of Lagos to London on Wednesday, alongside Coach Salisu Yusuf and a few other officials. South Africa –based Akpeyi’s UK visa was delayed by a public holiday in South Africa but he did the 11 –hour haul from Johannesburg to London overnight and arrived at Crowne Plaza London Ealing after breakfast on Thursday.
Team doctor Ibrahim Gyaran told thenff.com: “Carl (Ikeme) has been having hamstring and Achilles tendon issues but we did a scan on Wednesday night and we await the result. It is however good that the other goalkeepers are here.”
Rohr, who has been having several meetings with his technical team as he seeks a winning formula against Africa’s highest ranked team, Senegal at The Hive on Thursday, said: “It was the first time in my life that I had to start planning for a big match without goalkeepers on ground! But I am happy (Ikechukwu) Ezenwa and Daniel (Akpeyi) are finally here and we can think positively.”
The Super Eagles are on a five –match winning streak, from defeating Mali (in France) and Luxembourg (in Luxembourg City) in friendlies in the summer of 2016, to pipping Tanzania in a Cup of Nations qualifying match in Uyo in September and defeating Zambia and Algeria in 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches in October and November respectively.
Senegal will arrive at The Hive with pumped –up spirit after becoming Africa’s highest ranked team, and despite failing to light up the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon, are a tough call anyday. Liverpool FC’s Sadio Mane, as well as Mame Biram Diouf, Cheikh Kouyate and Idrissa Gueye are among their top performers.
Nigeria boast a young and vibrant squad that has been achieving results of late, with the likes of Leon Balogun, William Ekong, Abdullahi Shehu, Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo, John Ogu, Kelechi Iheanacho, Moses Simon and Alex Iwobi now joined by Tyrone Ebuehi, Chidozie Awaziem, Isaac Success, Olanrewaju Kayode and new boy Noah Bazee.
Akpeyi, Ekong, Shehu and Etebo were in the Nigeria U23 team that took bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Yet, the spine is still there with the experienced Ogenyi Onazi, Kenneth Omeruo, Elderson Echiejile and Ahmed Musa also here in camp.
Onazi, Omeruo and Kayode were in the Nigeria squad that finished second at the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2009. Ndidi, Iheanacho, Success and Musa Muhammed were in the Nigeria U17 squad in 2013.
An interesting match is at hand as Nigeria seek a 10th win over Senegal in 21 clashes at senior level. Venue is The Hive, home ground of League 2 teams Barnet FC and London Bees. Organizers told thenff.com that they expect about 3,000 spectators at the 6,000 –capacity ground.
Both nations first clashed at senior level on 27th February 1963, Nigeria winning an Nkrumah Cup game 4-0, but the Senegalese replied in equal measure six weeks later, hammering the Eagles 5-1 in a Friendship Games match in Dakar.
Senegal then stopped Nigeria from the race to the Munich ’72 Olympics, winning 3-2 on aggregate, but Nigeria also constituted stumbling block to Senegal in the race to the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana, winning 4-3 on aggregate. Nigeria defeated host Senegal 2-1 in the opening match of the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations, and won by the same margin when eliminating the Teranga Lions in the quarter -finals of the 2000 edition that she co-hosted with Ghana.
The Lions paid back by beating Nigeria (same scoreline) in the semi finals of the 2002 Cup of Nations in Mali. But Nigeria have won the past two encounters between both nations, both at the 2006 Cup of Nations in Egypt: a group phase match in Port Said that ended 2-1 and the bronze medal match that ended 1-0 in Cairo.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Assistant Referee 1: Harry Lennard
Assistant Referee 2: Constantine Hatzidakis
Reserve Referee: Andre Marriner