International Friendly: Nigeria’s Super Eagles Face Ukraine Tuesday
A curious collision between two nations who have never met before takes place on Tuesday in Dnipro, where a Ukraine side known for their robust defensive qualities host African visitors more noted for their threat in attack.
With a mere distance of a little more than 9,000km between Lagos and the Dnipro-Arena, this is quite the way to start planning a comeback for a Nigeria side who have not played for almost two months. Ukraine, by contrast, are fresh from Euro 2020 qualifier action.
Nigeria are probably still trying to forget their agonizing exit from this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations when they went out at the last gasp in their semi-final.
Riyad Mahrez’s 95th-minute free kick provided the dramatic winner, ending Nigeria’s hopes after tournament top-scorer Odion Ighalo’s equaliser from the penalty spot 20 minutes from the end of normal time.
As well as being the precursor to their 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign, this first meeting with Ukraine is seen as an important strategic fixture by Nigeria Football Federation organisers.
The federation’s President, Amaju Pinnick, described the trip as a “Grade A international friendly” when it was announced last month, praising it as an opportunity for Nigeria’s young talents to showcase their abilities in Europe.
The future of their manager Gernot Rohr seemed less rosy in the aftermath of that AFCON despair and a 2018 World Cup in which his tactics were criticised as his side crashed out following two defeats in the group stage.
Well-traveled German coach Rohr appears to have kept his job for the time being, although his contract expires next summer.
Ukraine have a commanding lead at the top of Euro 2020 qualifying Group B following their 3-0 win in Lithuania on Saturday.
A classy opener from silvery poacher Marlos was the first in an incisive attacking display, albeit against a side that coach Andriy Shevchenko would have expected his team to beat comfortably.
Already assured of a play-off place, they now have an eight-point lead at the top of the table over Portugal, who have two games in hand.
The hosts, for whom this is the first friendly of the year, have won five out of six games in 2019, as well as earning a creditable draw in Portugal in March.
They have kept clean sheets in each of their last three matches and won their last five home games.