PORTO ALEGRE (AFP) – Nigeria’s talismanic keeper Vincent Enyeama is relishing the renewal of his rivalry with Argentina’s Lionel Messi in Wednesday’s closing World Cup Group F game where the African champions are aiming to seal qualification to the last 16.
Enyeama faced the player he hailed on Tuesday as “a genius” at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where despite some notable saves the Argentines won 1-0.
Asked if he was anxious about the looming skirmish with the four time World Footballer of the Year the Lille shot-stopper replied: “To tell you the truth I’m never afraid of footballers,
“Messi is one of the best players on the planet, but it’s not a game between him and me, it’s a game between Nigeria and Argentina.
“Everybody knows he’s made a lot of progress since the last time we played against each other in 2010.
“Messi is a genius, one of the best footballers the world has produced, but tomorrow’s game is against Argentina, not just him.”
After an opening goalless draw against Iran and a 1-0 win over Bosnia-Hercegovina the Super Eagles are assured of taking the runners-up spot behind already qualified Argentina if they come away from the game at Porto Alegre’s Beira-Rio stadium with a draw, irrespective of how their rivals for second spot, Iran, fare against Bosnia.
Coach Stephen Keshi, appearing alongside Enyeama at the pre-match press conference, hinted that defender Godfrey Oboabuna, sidelined for the Bosnia clash after an injury in the opening game, was fit again and could return to his starting XI.
“He’s back training, we’ll see if he’s ok to start,” said the coach who will reportedly take over as boss of South Africa after the World Cup.
He dismissed out of hand suggestions that Nigeria would face Argentina solely with the objective of picking up the point that would see them cross the line and into the last 16.
“I never said that we would play for a draw, we’re ready to go out and play football and that’s what we’ll do tomorrow.”
With Porto Alegre the closest of all the World Cup venues to Argentina, a huge invasion estimated by as many as 100,000 fans will descend on this southern port city for Wednesday’s game.
Given Brazil’s traditional rivalry with the other South American footballing superpower most of the locals will inevitably be cheering on Nigeria.
“I love it when the stadium’s hot – it’s every player’s dream to showcase what they can do in front of a full stadium.
“We appreciate the Brazilians’ support but we’re not looking at that, we’re looking at how to perform and win our game…”
Before taking leave to put the finishing touches to his preparations on the stadium pitch Keshi dealt with the reports that he would be spending more time in Johannesburg than Lagos after the tournament as the new coach of South Africa.
“I’ve had a lot of interest from other countries, South Africa is one of them, I cannot confirm it, I’m thinking now about this game, one of the most important in my career.”
Nigeria are in pole to make it out of the first round with a likely last 16 match-up against France.
Even defeat to Argentina, who sit top with wins over Iran and Bosnia, could still see Keshi’s men prolong their stay in Brazil, if Iran fail to beat Bosnia up in Salvador.
And FIFA might even have to get out their straws for the drawing of lots should Iran win 1-0 and Nigeria lose by the same score, leaving the sides inseparable on points, goal difference, number of goals and head-to-head.
On that prospect of perhaps facing the rejuvenated 1998 champions Keshi, who starred for Nigeria as a player in the 1994 World Cup, mused: “We didn’t come here to shy away from any team, so be it if we qualify and have to face France, we’re here to enjoy what we know what to do and that’s to play football.”