x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Confederations Cup: Nigeria are finally ready to take part

After tardy arrival in Brazil, African champions Nigeria are determined to avoid upset against Tahiti in both teams' Confederations Cup opener.

Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa, right, and Sunday Mba celebrate after Musa scored in a World Cup Qualifying match against Kenya last week. Carl de Souza / AFP
Nigeria’s Ahmed Musa, right, and Sunday Mba celebrate after Musa scored in a World Cup Qualifying match against Kenya last week. Carl de Souza / AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO // Drained and in disarray, Nigeria finally arrived in Brazil for the Confederations Cup on Sunday, with less than 36 hours to prepare for their opening match against Tahiti.

A planned flight to Brazil on Thursday was cancelled after the African champions threatened to go on strike in a row with team officials over bonus payments.

With the discord rumbling, the squad finally travelled on Saturday from Namibia to Johannesburg for the first leg of their journey to Brazil for the eight-nation warm-up event for the 2014 World Cup.

But even their arrival in South Africa did not go smoothly, with the Nigeria Football Federation saying in a statement that "a first batch [of players] from Windhoek to Johannesburg inexplicably missed their flight".

But that group reached Johannesburg in time to catch the flight to Sao Paulo where the squad landed late on Saturday and immediately flew on to Belo Horizonte.

Nigeria's opening game against Oceania champions Tahiti kicks off at 4pm Brazilian time (11pm UAE) on Monday at the Estadio Mineirao.

Despite the travel chaos, Nigeria defender Efe Ambrose is determined not to be on the end of a shock when the Super Eagles take on the minnows. Nigeria are in Group B alongside Spain and Uruguay, as well as Tahiti, meaning a win is vital if the African Cup of Nations holders are to have a realistic chance of progressing.

And while Ambrose knows that his side go into the clash as heavy favourites, the Celtic defender is not taking anything for granted.

"The most important thing of all for us is to focus on this match," he told www.fifa.com.

"It is a match we know we need to win and, to do that, we need to be fully concentrated. We cannot afford to take any chances.

"Big shocks have happened before in these kind of tournaments and we don't want to be the victims this time.

"We know we need to get the three points to give ourselves a good chance of qualifying for the next stage."

The Tahiti captain Marama Vahirua believes just to score a goal will represent a significant achievement for the OFC champions.

The Nancy striker is the only professional player available to manager Eddy Etaeta and conceded his team are massive underdogs in their group.

"If we can at least score a goal, no matter who. A goal for us, it will be a victory in the competition," he told L'Equipe

"I did not come here to have fun but to defend the colours of Tahiti and French football."

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE