Super Eagles eye Saudi Arabia victory to kick-start AFCON 2023 preparations

Nigeria’s Super Eagles and Saudi Arabia’s Green Falcons will be at each other’s jugular on Friday evening in a friendly encounter in the Portugese city of Portimao that promises so much. Nigeria are three-time champions of Africa just as Saudi Arabia are three-time champions of Asia.

Both countries have met only once previously, also in a friendly match, also in Europe. That scoreless encounter in Wattens, Austria on 25th May 2010 was as part of the Super Eagles’ final preparations for the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa. The Saudis did not qualify for that tournament.

As both teams lined up at the Alpenstadion that evening, 13 years ago, the Super Eagles were rated 21st in the world while the Green Falcons were 66th. Today, the Eagles are 40th in the world while the Falcons are 57th. Incidentally, Saudi Arabia’s best-ever ranking was at 21st in July 2004. The Eagles were ranked 5th in the world in April 1994, just after winning the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia.

For Friday’s encounter, Head Coach Jose Peseiro, who coached Saudi Arabia that evening in Austria 13 years ago but is now in charge of Nigeria, will have exciting talents Bright Osayi-Samuel, Jordan Torunarigha, Calvin Bassey, Bruno Onyemaechi, Raphael Onyedika, Fisayo Dele-Bashiru, Terem Moffi, Victor Boniface, Samuel Chukwueze, Sadiq Umar and of course FIFA Ballon d’Or Dozen-Shortlist member, Victor Osimhen, at his disposal.

There are also experienced defenders Kenneth Omeruo (who was in the 2013 AFCON-winning squad and is happy to echo ‘Let’s Do It Again’), Semi Ajayi and Chidozie Awaziem, midfielders Wilfred Ndidi, Frank Onyeka, Joseph Ayodele-Aribo and Alex Iwobi, and forwards Moses Simon and Kelechi Iheanacho.

While Peseiro will surely miss in-form Nottingham Forest of England forward Taiwo Awoniyi, who is sidelined by injury, there is the opportunity to either start Victor Boniface or see what ravemaking France-based Terem Moffi can truly offer. Moffi was in Peseiro’s first roll-of-the-dice with the Eagles in the friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador in the USA last year’s summer, and scored as the Eagles marched on Sao Tome and Principe to set a record international scoreline in an AFCON 2023 qualifying match in Agadir, Morocco some days later.

With the recall of goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, the rivalry between him and Francis Uzoho for Nigeria’s number one jersey resumes, and both goal-tenders know that only the best will keep the gloves in next month’s World Cup qualifiers and at the AFCON early next year.

Friday’s game kicks off at 5pm Nigeria time.

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