x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Nigeria coach Keshi praises sleep-deprived Super Eagles

Stephen Keshi praised his squad for their 2-2 draw against Italy on Monday night, saying 'After 48 hours, playing in a World Cup qualifying match and flying right away here, they did good'.

Nigeria huddle before their friendly with Italy on Monday night. Claudio Villa / Getty Images
Nigeria huddle before their friendly with Italy on Monday night. Claudio Villa / Getty Images

LONDON // Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi praised his players for shrugging off the effects of jetlag and fatigue to hold Italy to a 2-2 draw in an entertaining friendly in London.

Monday’s game at Fulham’s Craven Cottage came barely 48 hours after the African champions had secured their place at next year’s World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Ethiopia in the second leg of a qualifying play-off.

A much-changed side fell behind to a 12th-minute goal by Giuseppe Rossi but hit back through Bright Dike and Shola Ameobi, only for Italy midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini to restore parity early in the second half.

“After 48 hours, playing a World Cup qualifying match and flying right away here, they did good,” Keshi said.

“Without sleeping, and we didn’t get to do any training before this game. I’m happy.”

The World Cup in Brazil is still seven months away, but Keshi does not foresee any major upheaval regarding the composition of his squad during that period.

“This is the fifth or sixth time I’m taking the same team to play my game,” he said.

“Most of them are going to be there (in Brazil), if there’s no injuries. I pray there’s no injuries. But I still need some (new) players in the team, to make the team more solid.”

United States-born Dike, 26, had previously scored for Nigeria in an unofficial friendly against Catalonia in January, but his 35th-minute header against Italy was his first goal in a full international match.

While Nigeria threatened to snatch victory on a couple of occasions in the second half, Italy twice hit the woodwork in the latter stages, and Dike said the performance showed room for improvement.

“It was a little mixed,” said the Toronto FC forward.

“We had some really good moments, we had some bad moments, but that’s what soccer is. They had us on our back-heels at times, we had them on their back-heels.

“So hopefully we keep getting better and keep helping each other and pushing each other to the next level.”

Captain Vincent Enyeama told the BBC in the aftermath of his side’s victory over Ethiopia that Nigeria could win next year’s tournament, but he was more circumspect after the draw with Italy.

Asked how far Nigeria could go, the Lille goalkeeper would only say: “As far as possible. Until I know the opponent, then I will start talking. For now: as far as possible.”