BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
‘No permanent friends; no permanent enemies’ is a popular saying that has come into focus as Nigeria’s Super Falcons take on Saudi Arabia on Friday.
The two teams meet for the second time ever. In their first meeting 13 years ago at Alpenstadion in Austria, Jose Peseiro was the coach of Saudi Arabia, plotting a defeat for the Super Eagles.
Now his interest has shifted to Nigeria as he plots a defeat of his former team, Saudi Arabia in Friday’s clash at Portimao in Portugal.
It is a clash of teams that have green as their dominant colour and nicknamed after high soaring birds – eagles and falcons.
The comparison does not end there. Both are three-time champions of their respective continents – Africa and Asia.
While Nigeria used the first encounter of 25 May 2010 as preparation for the 2010 World Cup, the Friday encounter serves almost the same purpose – preparation for World Cup qualifiers as well as that of Africa Cup of Nations finals.
In May 2010 when both teams met, the Super Eagles were rated 21st in the world while the Green Falcons were 66th.
Today, the Super Eagles are 40th in the world while the Falcons are 57th. Incidentally, Saudi Arabia’s best-ever ranking was at 21st in July 2004.
The Eagles were ranked 5th in the world in April 1994, just after winning the Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia.
For Friday’s encounter, Head Coach Jose Peseiro will have exciting talents Bright Osayi-Samuel, Jordan Torunarigha, Calvin Bassey, Bruno Onyemaechi, Raphael Onyedika, Fisayo Dele-Bashiru, Terem Moffi, Victor Boniface, Samuel Chukwueze, Sadiq Umar and of course FIFA Ballon d’Or Dozen-Shortlist member, Victor Osimhen, at his disposal.
There are also experienced defenders Kenneth Omeruo (who was in the 2013 AFCON-winning squad and is happy to echo ‘Let’s Do It Again’), Semi Ajayi and Chidozie Awaziem, midfielders Wilfred Ndidi, Frank Onyeka, Joseph Ayodele-Aribo and Alex Iwobi, and forwards Moses Simon and Kelechi Iheanacho.
While Peseiro will surely miss in-form Nottingham Forest of England forward Taiwo Awoniyi, who is sidelined by injury, there is the opportunity to either start Victor Boniface or see what ravemaking France-based Terem Moffi can truly offer. Moffi was in Peseiro’s first roll-of-the-dice with the Eagles in the friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador in the USA last year’s summer, and scored as the Eagles marched on Sao Tome and Principe to set a record international scoreline in an AFCON 2023 qualifying match in Agadir, Morocco some days later.
With the recall of goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, the rivalry between him and Francis Uzoho for Nigeria’s number one jersey resumes, and both goal-tenders know that only the best will keep the gloves in next month’s World Cup qualifiers and at the AFCON early next year.
Friday’s game kicks off at 5pm Nigeria time.