Nigeria beats Tahiti 6-1 in their Group B Confederations Cup match. The Super Eagles were far from sharp, however, despite extending their unbeaten streak to 17 after toppling the island nation.
It was the first time these two nations met, with Tahiti making its first truly international debut by dramatically winning the 2012 Ocean Nations Cup. Playing against the Super Eagles was never going to be easy, Africa's heavyweights also winning this year's African Cup winners.
And while Tahiti boasted only one professional player in their squad (33-year-old striker Marama Vahirua of Panthrakikos FC), Nigeria brought experience and big names like Chelsea's John Obi Mikel.
Even before the match, Tahiti noted that any chances at pulling off an upset in the tournament were slim. In quotes given to the BBC, Henri Thierry Ariiotima, president of the Tahiti FA, said:
Many people are surprised we actually play football on grass and not just on the beach for fun, but we do and we are improving at it…We know our limitations and we know we face very hard opponents in the Confederations Cup, but playing the world champions at the Maracana is an impossible dream that has been made real. I just hope we get our tactics right.
When talking about the game against Nigeria, he then went on to boost the morale of his men by saying: “Of course we will probably lose, but we don't want to lose by too many goals."
Tahiti forward Steevy Chong Hue, who scored the winner against New Caledonia in the final of the OFC and played a great game against Nigeria, was also realistic. In quotes given to FIFA, he said: “For an amateur player it is a dream to face the best players in the world. However for it not to become a nightmare we have to keep working really hard so we are ready for the first game.”
Nigerian defender Efe Ambrose reminded his side that they couldn't afford to be complacent against a country ranked 138th in the world with only a population of 178,000.
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.
Ironically, it was his slopping defending at the far post that cost his squad the embarrassment of Jonathan Tehau's goal.
The tournament will not get any easier with Spain and Uruguay as next opponents. Tahiti will certainly be the happier of the two, putting in a courageous effort to thwart the Nigerians and even grab a goal. They can boost their confidence by noting bad luck cost them on two occasions as well, especially on the brace from Echiejile.
Nigerian manager Stephen Keshi, meanwhile, will be disappointed with his side's display. They were largely sloppy throughout, their passing game not sharp, their defending questionable on the flanks, easy runs needlessly caught offside. It didn't look like they had recovered from their long flight or scandal-ridden qualifying campaign.
If they stand a chance at making it any further in the tournament, let along making it to the World Cup next year, they'll have to find a way to get back to their best.
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