How Nigeria are preparing for AFCON quarterfinal vs. Angola



How Nigeria are preparing for AFCON quarterfinal vs. Angola How Nigeria are preparing for AFCON quarterfinal vs. Angola

Nigeria have been boosted by the return of goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali as they prepare to take on Angola in Friday's Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal. Nwabali returned to full training on Thursday, but coach Jose Peseiro is still staying cautious, saying he would wait on a late fitness test before deciding whether to start the goalkeeper or go with deputy Francis Uzoho.

Nwabali was stretchered off injured in the round-of-16 clash against Cameroon when he was clattered into by Georges-Kévin N'Koudou and has not trained fully with the rest of the squad as he recovers from what appeared to be a hamstring strain.

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"The doctor will take the final decision," Peseiro said. "He will go to take the final test. But if he cannot play, then we will play Francis. I have confidence in him and in [Olorunleke] Ojo also."

Nwabali's return will be a major plus for the Super Eagles, who have anchored their play on solid defensive work combined with rapid quick transitions into attack. It is a formula that Peseiro says is unlikely to change against Angola.

"We must keep our way of play, our consistency," Peseiro said. "Our team so far conceded one goal and scored five. We want to keep this capacity to score, create opportunities, concede less. At the same time, create a good block, work hard, play with organization and not let the opponent to score."

That philosophy has worked so far, with the Super Eagles conceding just one goal in their four games so far, while scoring five. However, they confront an Angola team that have free-scored their way to this stage, putting nine goals past the opposition while allowing only three.

Peseiro says that while he will respect their strengths, he will stick to what has worked for his team. "When you evaluate the opponent, you try to check what they do well. But we need to not ignore key points of the opponent, and we can't change our way just because the opponent scores a lot of goals.

"A team with quality like Nigeria must play with our model, our characteristics. I respect the opponent, check their style and the quality of players, but we cannot change our model or plan because of the opponent. We may change the strategy but we won't change our way of play."

With most of the big names having been eliminated from what has been a tournament of upsets, Nigeria are the highest-ranked team remaining and have been elevated to title favourites along with hosts Ivory Coast.

Midfielder Alex Iwobi acknowledged that is something the team have considered as they get ready for the game. "This competition there has been a lot of surprises," the Fulham man said. "The so-called big teams have gone out. There has been a lot of surprise results. The main thing for us is that we remain focused. We look at our own games, we analyze our own performances and we want to do what is best for us. We don't want to look at the outside noise."

It is not just those results that have had the Super Eagles showing respect for their opponents. Both teams have some history between them, and while Nigeria have emerged on top in most of the encounters, it has not been easy and they actually lost a crucial World Cup ticket to Angola in 2006.

The Palancas Negras, drawn in the same group as the Super Eagles, won 1-0 in Luanda and then held on for a 1-1 draw in the return fixture. That result meant the Angolans won the head-to-head when both sides finished level on points and broke Nigerian hearts by qualifying for their first and only ever World Cup appearance.

But the signs were there before. In the 2004 AFCON qualifiers, the Palancas Negras gave the Super Eagles a scare, running up a 2-0 lead against the home side in Benin, before goals from Kalu Uche and Osaze Odemwingie restored parity and helped the Nigerians avoid missing the Nations Cup.

But it was their meeting in 1989 that remains most memorably seared into the hearts of Nigerians. Both sides were drawn in the same group for the 1990 World Cup qualifiers. Nigeria edged the two-legged tie, drawing 2-2 in Luanda and winning 1-0 in Lagos. But that game in Lagos was forever blemished by the tragedy of Nigeria midfielder Samuel Okwaraji collapsing on the pitch and eventually passing on.

While there is no revenge to be had here, the Super Eagles should be motivated to win this as a tribute to the late Okwaraji.

But Iwobi is aware of just how dangerous the Angolans can be on their good day. "We have to give a lot of respect to Angola because to get to this stage of the competition is a big achievement in itself," he said. "They have a lot of creative players, but I trust my team. We have been keeping clean sheets and only conceded one goal so hopefully, that helps us. We are going to need the whole team to defend. We are going to have to fight for the team, fight for the win.

"It's not going to be easy, they've been scoring a lot of goals but I have confidence in my team that we will be able to withstand any pressure that they put on us."

Keywords: Ivory Coast AFCON Africa Cup of Nations Nigeria 

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