PREVIEW/Nigeria battle Saudis to avoid Brazil


The big prize for Nigeria by finishing top of Group D of the U20 World Cup will be avoiding Brazil in the next round.

As expected, South American champions Brazil topped Group E with a 4-0 spanking of Panama in Barranquilla Thursday.

African representatives Egypt also cruised into the knockout stage of Colombia 2011 with a 4-0 thrashing of Austria.

Both Nigeria and Saudi Arabia have recorded six points each but the Flying Eagles are currently top of Group D having scored more goals than their closest rivals.

Saturday’s showdown between the two teams will therefore be a hard-fought battle as both teams seek an easier second round tie possibly with England, who finished third in Group F with three points from as many matches.

The other likely second round opponents for the Group D winners could be New Zealand, who are on two points and take on Portugal in their last Group B match Friday in Cali.

“It’s important to finish top of our group because we wish to play our second round match in Armenia, which has become a home away from home for us,” said Nigeria defender Kenneth Omeruo, who features for Standard Liege in Belgium.

Flying Eagles coach, John Obuh (In pic), said he expects a tough match at the 40,000-capacity Estadio Monumental Hernan Ramirez Villegas in Pereira.

“They are a high-scoring side having scored eight goals without conceding any in two matches and so they deserve our respect,” Obuh said shortly after the team’s first training in Pereira at the Club Campestre Thursday night.

“However, we want to still go very far in this tournament and would therefore wish for an easier second round match.”

Both teams clashed in a friendly in Dubai earlier this year with the Saudis forcing the Flying Eagles to a 1-1 draw.

The Saudis, handled by local coach Khalid Alkoroni, demonstrated they are all capable of scoring goals when there were six different scorers against Guatemala on Wednesday.

Skipper Abdullah Otayf, whose other brothers have also featured in this age-group competition, is the livewire of this team who reached the last four of the Asian qualifying tournament.

The Saudis made their U20 World Cup debut in 1985 in the former USSR, where they played out a 0-0 draw with Spain, defeated Republic of Ireland 1-0, before they lost 1-0 to Brazil and exited the tournament.

Both Brazil and Spain will play in the final of that edition of the competition.

In Colombia 2011, they are one of the best prepared teams after they camped out in Brazil for 25 days before spending another 10 days in Bogota so as to get used to the high altitude in Colombia.

Obuh is most likely to keep faith with the starting XI who played against both Guatemala and Croatia.

If there will be any changes, it will be in central defence where Ganiu Ogungbe suffered an ankle injury against Croatia and is on a yellow card.
Another booking for the towering Gateway FC star will see him suspended for the second round match.

Enyimba ace Emmanuel Anyanwu could therefore be drafted back into his more familiar central defence position, while Chimezie Mbah is brought in at right back or Felix Udoh plays left back for Terna Suswan to revert to his usual rightback.
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