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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

It's not all about Messi, say Nigeria

Nigeria have warned that Lionel Messi was not the only danger man from Argentina ahead of their World Cup opener against the South American giants on Saturday.

sports Updated: Jun 09, 2010 18:11 IST


Nigeria have warned that Lionel Messi was not the only danger man from Argentina ahead of their World Cup opener against the South American giants on Saturday.

The Super Eagles will also face South Korea and Greece in Group B, but all thoughts were focused on Diego Maradona's superstars at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg.

"Messi's the same player, like a man. He's a good player and we respect him. We hope he respects us too," Everton striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni said of the Barcelona playmaker.

"We're not thinking about Messi, we're thinking about playing against Argentina, a good team."

Nigeria's run-up to the World Cup has been hit by injury to Mikel Jon Obi, their star Chelsea midfielder, but coach Lars Lagerback was adamant that his team would work through the set-back.

"Of course you want best players in Nigeria to participate in the squad," the Swede said.

"I would love to have Mikel in the squad, he's had a fantastic season with Chelsea and the Super Eagles, but that's football, all teams have injuries.

"It's been a long season for a lot of the players and unfortunately for Mikel, after his operation it didn't work as we hoped."

Lagerback oversaw his first win as Nigeria coach on Sunday, a 3-1 win over fellow World Cup qualifiers North Korea overshadowed by a crowd stampede.

It was a third friendly warm-up, Lagerback's team having also eeked out a goalless draw with Saudi Arabia and a 1-1 stalemate with Colombia.

"What the players have done in this last week is great. They've improved all the time and worked very hard," said the coach who was involved with the Swedish national team for two decades.

"In general, it was a good game (against North Korea). The players are working hard and performing and now we can focus on this week's game against Argentina, and we're looking forward to this."

Everton defender Joseph Yobo said the result against the North Koreans was a timely tonic that had left the Nigeria squad in high spirits.

"It was a big morale booster for us," Yobo said. "It was our last friendly game. It was also a good test because we're playing South Korea and we enjoyed the game.

"We needed confidence ahead of the Argentina game and scoring three goals is a good boost."

Lagerback also justified the choice of their base, in the relative industrial obscurity of South Africa's leading bulk export port of Richards Bay.

Nigeria are just one of a handful of teams who have spurned a chance of a high-altitude base, but Lagerback said the advantages of warmth had triumphed.

"I checked it (the advantages of altitude) up a year ago. We talked to a lot of specialists about it. There is a slight physiological advantage, but it's a very small thing," said the Swede.

Much better, he said, was the "psychological advantage" his team would have from being able to bask in temperatures of 29 degrees C (84F) during the day.

First Published: Jun 08, 2010 15:31 IST

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