By John Egbokhan
Flying Eaglesâ€™ coach,Samson Siasia, would this afternoon in Cairo, lead out his troops for a tournament deciding fixture against Spain at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, acutely aware that any result other than a victory would spell doom for his team and career.
Following Fridayâ€™s shock 1-0 lo
ss to Venezuela, who are making their debut at the tournament, in their first group match, the Nigerians are naturally anxious to return to winning ways against Spain, who trounced Tahiti 8-0 in the other group match held on the same day.
Todayâ€™s battle is certain to assume the status of a final match as it might mark the end of the road for the Nigerians, who are condemned to win, to stand any realistic chance of making it to the next round, sequel to significant wins for Spain and Venezuela, who might go top of the group if they beat Tahiti, later in the evening.
The stakes are high for these two countries, who renew their rivalry for the first time since meeting in the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which the Spanish still feel they did not deserve to lose.
Although two years have passed, they come into the duel with revenge on their mind, and both squads are certainly different, this fixture does offer the Spaniards the opportunity to avenge their penalty shootout defeat in that decider.
Everything suggests that Mondayâ€™s encounter will play out similarly, with both teams going for the win but without throwing caution to the wind. What has changed, however, are the respective teamsâ€™ fortunes going into the game; while Spain won their opener 8-0 against Tahiti, Nigeria suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Venezuela, meaning another loss or draw, would all but eliminate the Flying Eagles.
Touted as one of the most productive coaches in the land, Siasia, a former youth international and Eagles forward, goes into this duel
with a heavy load on his shoulders as he attempts to avoid a shock first round elimination and shore up his acceptance ratings by an ever perceptive Nigerian crowd.
He would be banking on his charges to come out firing on all cylinders and score those goals that will subdue Spain and one of those, he is relying on is Omatsone Aluko, who failed to fly against Venezuela, has tipped the team to reach the second round.
â€œWeâ€™ve put Fridayâ€™s slip-up behind us and now weâ€™re only thinking about Spain, who will offer a sterner test than Venezuela. Iâ€™m an optimist though so Iâ€™m confident weâ€™ll improve and reach the second roundâ€, said the Aberdeen forward, who was substituted in Fridayâ€™s match.
But he and his Nigerian side have received a stern warning from Spanish midfielder, Fran Merida, who with the benefit of hindsight, said that Spain are firmly fixated on scooping the maximum points on offer.
â€œI can still remember the final from two years ago very well, and many of their players. Theyâ€™re still a dangerous side; physically fit and very attack-minded. But the main thing is weâ€™re concentrating firmly on getting the three points, the rest matters littleâ€, said Merida, who was pivotal in the 8-0 humiliation of Tahiti.
Significantly too, todayâ€™s game will be Spainâ€™s 60th in this competition, making them the team with the third highest number of appearances behind Brazil (82) and Argentina (67).