Nigeria will hope to get off to a winning start in Friday night’s opening Group B match against Portugal at the U20 World Cup in Turkey.
The Flying Eagles, who finished third at the recent African Youth Championship in Algeria, are drawn against Portugal, debutants Cuba and South Korea in Group B based in Kayseri.
Portugal beat Nigeria 2-1 at the recent Toulon International Tournament in France as a prelude to Friday’s showdown. But the Flying Eagles played a mostly experimental side in Toulon as they tried out several new and fringe players ahead of the World Cup.
Midfielder Ovbokha Agboyi was one of several of the established players who did not play in Toulon and he said it was crucial to get off to a winning start against a good Portugal team in Kayseri.
“The opening game is very important for us. We lost our first game to Mali at the AYC and it really affected us. We cannot afford this at the World Cup,” the Bayelsa United defensive midfielder declared.
“We saw Portugal in Toulon and they are a good team and so we have to be at our best on Friday.”
Nigeria German assistant coach Jurgen Press said he rates Portugal very highly.
“Portugal will be one of the top four teams at this World Cup. They are tactically sound and parade some very experienced players,” he said.
“But we also have a good team and have picked up a few interesting things about them in Toulon which we hope to use in our favour on Friday.”
The coaches will most likely keep faith with the team to the AYC with new players Wilfred Ndidi and Michael Olaitan best as covers for starters like Chizoba Amaefule, Ikechukwu Okorie and skipper Abduljaleel Ajagun.
U20 world champions in 1989 and 1991, Portugal were beaten in the 2011 World Cup final in Colombia 3-2 by Brazil after extra time.
Coach Edgar Borges has assembled another decent side for Turkey 2013.
He has retained the bulk of the squad from the Toulon Tournament, meaning goalkeeper Jose Sa, skipper Joao Mario, David Luis-lookalike Tiago Ferreira, To-Ze, Tiago Silva and Aladje will again be in action against Nigeria.
Tiago Ilori, whose father is Nigerian, is again expected to partner Tiago Ferreira in the heart of a well-organised defence, where right fullback Tomas Dabo loves to join the attack.
Italy-based striker Aladje is big and strong and his left foot is lethal.
Kick-off time is 9pm local time, which is 7pm Nigerian time.
– Sola Rogers (Twitter – @solarogers), News Bytes Sports Desk
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