NIG v TUN: Super Eagles cannot afford to lose two games in a row – Adepoju
Ex-Nigeria international Mutiu Adepoju tells Sulaiman Alao why Tuesday’s friendly between the Super Eagles and Tunisia is a must-win for Gernot Rohr’s team. Read excerpts of the exclusive interview…
The Super Eagles will be taking on Tunisia in their second friendly match this evening in Austria. What are your expectations?
Well, I will be looking forward to a much better performance from the Super Eagles. I want to see an improved team from what we saw in the last outing against Algeria. I want the players to play with more determination knowing it will not be good enough to lose two games in a row even though they are friendlies.
Having lost the first friendly against Algeria, how should the Eagles approach the next game against Tunisia?
The Eagles must approach the match against Tunisia with more seriousness and with a different attitude. The Tunisians are another North African team with a similar playing pattern with Algeria so our players must be ready and focused. The Eagles should not underrate the Tunisians just because we beat them the last time at the Nations Cup. They will want to beat us by all means this time so we must be battle-ready. It will definitely not be good enough if we lose in the second friendly.
You come across as if you were disappointed with the 1-0 loss to Algeria in the first game. Are you saying the players didn’t give their best in the first game?
Of course, the players gave their best in the first game against Algeria but obviously, it was not good enough. However, you expect your team to improve from match to match and that’s why I said I will be looking forward to a better performance against Tunisia. Of course there were some positive things to take away from the first game and I think losing the first game against Algeria should further boost the players’ determination as well as motivate them to go all out to play better and win against Tunisia.
What would you say went wrong in the loss to Algeria?
I would say two things and the two had an overlapping effect. First, we did not have the full complement of the team. There were some key players missing against Algeria as the coach tried out some new players. So obviously, the Eagles were not at their full strength.
Second, the Super Eagles started the game slowly and it took them some time before they were able to get into the right gear. That was the reason for the early goal they conceded but I think the team stabilized a little after the early goal. I think that was the price we had to pay for fielding a largely experimental team with some of our key players out injured. But I’m expecting the Eagles to learn from the first friendly and step up their game against Tunisia.
Most Nigerian fans were not happy with the loss to Algeria because we also lost against them at the last AFCON. Must the Eagles win every time?
Fans are the same all over the world in that they always want their team to win and Nigerian fans are no exception. The players don’t want to lose any match too but sometimes it happens. I can understand the fans’ frustrations that the Eagles lost to the same team that beat them at the AFCON but let’s not forget Algeria are the current African champions and we must give something extra to beat them.
However, the Eagles need to put that behind them and shift their focus to Tunisia. We can’t afford to lose two games in a row because not only will that affect our world rankings, but it will also affect the psyche of the players negatively.
Gernot Rohr invited lots of new players for these friendlies with a number of foreign-born players getting their first call-ups. Is that a good development?
It’s a good development to have good players wanting to play for the national team irrespective of where they were born. At least, they are Nigerians. Every coach is always looking to improve his team and I think Rohr is doing well in that regard but it requires patience because it may take some time for the new players to gel with the team.
That’s the purpose of friendly matches – to try out new players and that’s why we must not condemn the team too much if we didn’t get the desired results in such preparatory games. But there must be obvious improvement which will be measured by the result we get when we next play with the full complement of the team.
Talking about the new players, are you impressed with what you’ve seen of them so far?
To an extent, some of them showed good promise but it’s just one game for now and football need consistency. We didn’t see the others in the first game and the coach might try them against Tunisia today. The coaches are closer to the new players and they will have observed them more in training. I’m sure they will be able to pick the best ones to further strengthen the team going forward.
Lastly, is it right playing against North African teams when the Eagles are actually set to play against West African teams in the AFCON qualifiers next month?
It is the ideal thing to play friendlies against an opposition that has a similar playing pattern to the teams we are preparing to play in competitive games. I’m aware we were supposed to play against Cote d’Ivoire but they opted out.
However, it is also important to play against quality oppositions and I think the Algerians and Tunisians are good oppositions – both teams made it to the last four at the last AFCON with Algeria winning the title while Tunisia lost to us in the losers final.
Most African countries now have most of their national team players in Europe so the difference between North and West African oppositions is not too much nowadays. What is important is to perfect our own playing style against any quality opposition during friendly engagements.