Super Eagles chief coach Salisu Yusuf has come out in defense of striker Anthony Okpotu who is yet to open his account for the side at the ongoing African Nations championship in Morocco.
The Lobi Stars striker who scored 19 league goals in the Nigeria Professional Football League to finish as top scorer last season, has been a shadow of himself in the competition, but Salisu says Okpotu is favourite to start for Nigeria in her last group match against Equatorial Guinea on Tuesday.
“We created a balance in the squad, at the back we have Orji as the most experience player. Likewise, Ali in the midfield and Okpotu is the most experienced in the attack. Okpotu gives us balance and maturity we needed in the final third, he did well and played according to our plans against Libya.
“He ensured that Libya didn’t find space to build up from the back (their last group match), Okpotu makes it easy for Ibrahim Mustapha to come in and run down through the channels. Okpotu will always be favourite to start.”
Yusuf also revealed he will make changes to the team’s starting line-up against Equatorial Guinea on Tuesday night at the Grand Agadir Stadium.
He added: “We thought Peter Eneji will be available for the third game but seems he’s not fully fit to play the game against Equatorial Guinea. The doctor will continue to work on his fitness and if he can explore well he will be part of the game. We are also having issues with Rabiu Ali, Stephen Eze and Orji Kalu but they are progressing with their recovery.
“I have no regret including Eneji in the squad despite getting injured in Abuja, his quality is a big addition to the team and we hope to have him available soon. He wasn’t part of the CHAN qualifiers, he joined the team for the WAFU Cup in Ghana and his contribution to the team was massive. We find it difficult to get his replacement when he was doubtful, we made the right decision. He’s young and he will continue his development in the national team.”
Salisu on the challenge Equatorial Guinea pose to Nigeria:
“It will be a tough game, the desired result will not come easy. They are playing for pride and such opposition are always difficult to beat. They have their pride to protect and they will fight hard not to lose all three matches. The game is important to us, this is the most difficult hurdle in the group stage and we must win to progress.
“They are not a bad team, against Rwanda they contested the game very well and conceded very late in the game. They won’t go down easily, they only had a bad tournament which can happen to any team.”
On Nigeria having scored just one goal in CHAN 2018
Salisu: “I think the most important thing in group games is for us to qualify to the next round of the tournament, we want to reach the quarter-final and we know for the team to progress we need to score goals. However, the numbers of goals doesn’t matter at this level, accumulated points is the most important.”
Salisu believes the team learnt lessons from the shocker in Rwanda:
“We have four players in the 2016 squad currently in Morocco with the team and the communication among the group is challenging, we learnt a lot of lessons in Rwanda and we have been able to correct those mistakes that could hurt the team. We have to motivate the players, they have to fight all through the game and we hope everything will favour us.”
The weather in Tangier or Agadir? And his preferred selection of Nigeria’s matchday squad.
“The weather in Tangier was very cold and the weather in Agadir looks similar to what we have in the North in Nigeria. The focus is to win the game and finish as group leader.
“We select our line-up based on players form, attitude and their mentality. We might make one or two changes but we won’t overhaul the starting eleven we saw in the previous two games.