Nigeria’s status as resounding favorites to beat minnows Tahiti in their Confederations Cup opener today has been compromised by a delayed arrival that leaves them just 36 hours to prepare for the game.
Tahiti became the first team to arrive in Brazil for the intercontinental showpiece when they touched down on June 7, a full 10 days before the Group B clash with African champions Nigeria in Belo Horizonte.
In stark contrast, Nigeria were not due to arrive until 4am local time yesterday, giving Stephen Keshi’s squad precious little time to shake the jet lag from their systems and get ready for the match.
A row over bonus payments had put Nigeria’s participation in jeopardy, only for Nigerian Sports Minister Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi to broker a truce between the squad and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF).
The Super Eagles have nonetheless gone 17 games unbeaten and will expect to open their campaign with victory against a side ranked 138th in the FIFA rankings.
Representing the French Polynesian islands in the south Pacific, which have a population of just 270,000, Tahiti have no previous senior tournament experience.
Their preparations have included a 7-0 thrashing by Chile’s under-20 side and a 1-0 loss to Brazilian second-tier club Mineiro. Forward Steevy Chong Hue knows his side could be set for a rude awakening.
“For an amateur player, it is a dream to face the best players in the world,” he said. “However, for it not to become a nightmare, we have to keep working really hard so we are ready for the first game.”
Despite the vast disparity between the sides, Nigeria defender Efe Ambrose says the risk of international humiliation will keep his teammates on their toes.
“We cannot afford to take any chances,” the versatile Celtic player told the FIFA Web site. “Big shocks have happened before in these kind of tournaments and we don’t want to be the victims this time.”
Tahiti coach Eddy Etaeta will hand a debut to former Monaco forward Marama Vahirua, the squad’s only professional player, whose commitments in Europe have prevented him from playing at international level before.
Nigeria will be without Lazio midfielder Ogenyi Onazi, who has followed Spartak Moscow striker Emmanuel Emenike and Chelsea winger Victor Moses in withdrawing from the squad due to injury.
The opening Group B fixture was due to take place yesterday, with Spain tackling Uruguay in Recife.