Pre-World Cup preview: Poland vs Nigeria

By George Akpayen

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Photo: NFF
Photo: NFF

Nigeria’s Super Eagles will face their Poland counterparts at the senior level for the first time in an international friendly match at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw this Friday.

Both teams are preparing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia and the outcome of this warm-up contest will have little effect on two teams except the world ranking for the coming month.

Poland go into this fixture ranked number six in the world and Adam Nawałka’s men sure have justified their place among the top hitters in the globe with some eye-catching results in their World Cup qualification in Europe and recent international friendly games. The Polish side are using the game to fine-tune as they are drawn in same World Cup group with another African nation Senegal.

The west Africans are down 48 places and on paper this might pass as a mismatch for someone who hardly follows the game. But the eastern Europeans are mindful of their Nigerian opponents who brushed aside Argentina 4-2 coming from two goals down to achieve the feat though many still feel Lionel Messi’s absence is a factor.

Poland’s last international game was a warm-up game at the Stadion Energa in Gdańsk in November against Mexico. The Mexicans triumphed in front of more than 32,000 fans and against a Polish side that played a three-man defence.

Nigeria head coach Gernot Rohr has made it clear that this is a good test for his men as they face of one of best forwards in the world in Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich man has scored five of Poland’s last 13 goals and that makes him a man to watch.

STARS TO WATCH

No doubt Lewandowski is their main man. The Polish team have so much talent in their setup that complement the excellent freescoring Lewandowski. Łukasz Piszczek, Piotr Zieliński, Arkadiusz ‘Arek’ Milik, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Kamil Grosicki. Poland also have two top goalkeeper in Łukasz Fabiański and Wojciech Szczęsny.

However Nigeria’s biggest stars are based in England. Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Wilfred Ndidi readily come to mind. Of course the experience of Ogenyi Onazi, Ahmed Musa and Elderson Echiejile will be important plus the steel of centre-back duo of William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun.

FIRST START

Apart from having a playing personnel of young and talented individuals, Rohr’s biggest headache is in the goalkeeping area after Wolverhampton Wanderers stopper Carl Ikeme was diagnosed by Leukaemia last year. He has now decided to hand Deportivo La Coruna young custodian Francis Uzoho his first international start at the age of 19. This represents a big chance for the youngster to make a bid for the number one place with Ikechukwu Ezenwa whose stock has risen in the past months.

MISSING IN ACTION

But a number of players will take no part in this first-ever meeting between both nations at senior level. VfL Wolfsburg winger Jakub Blaszczykowski is not listed in this game as he has been out injured since mid-November. Blaszczykowski is recovering from a back injury and is now expected to be back in action in April – a cheering news for the Poland head coach Nawałka.

The Super Eagles captain Mikel John Obi is the notable absence for the former African champions. Mikel is in China resolving his work permit issue and could be available for the Serbia game next week.

The pair of Al Ahly forward Junior Ajayi and Chippa United goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi have failed to secure required documents into Poland and will only join up with the Nigerian side in London for the Serbia match-up. Las Palmas midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo on the other hand has been out injured since March 14 due to a thigh injury. The former Warri Wolves man is expected to return in April.

The Polish team will be quite a handful of opposition for the Super Eagles suffered a home defeat to South Africa in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifying in the absence of Mikel – something which Rohr highlighted in his pre-match conference describing the Tianjin TEDA midfielder as his team’s “real leader.”

Nonetheless Poland have not won their last two matches – both international friendly against Uruguay (0-0 in Warsaw) and Mexico (0-1 in Gdańsk), so the Nigerians can fancy their chances against a top-seeded nation though the odds look against them.

The Predictor’s prediction: 2-1

© The Predictor

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