Emmanuel Emenike believes Nigeria can withstand the pressure ahead of Saturday’s must-win clash with Bosnia-Hercegovina.
“You can’t hide from pressure. Football is a game of pressure. Everyone expects big things from you.” Emeenike, Afcon 2013 joint-top scorer, told Fifa.com on the usual expectations saddled on the Super Eagles to prove a point in Brazil.
Nigeria dominated possession and tried more shots at goal but were cut short on several attempts to get off to a winning start against Iran on Monday. The goalless draw in Curitiba- the first of the 2014 World Cup- disgusted many fans back home- in-terms of choices made by the players during the dour stalemate.
Moreover, tonight’s crucial game against Bosnia, who finished Europe’s qualifying series with the best attack (having scored 30 goals in ten matches), has always been regarded as the deciding moment of Group F since December’s draw. The European debutantes, just like the African champions, will look to keep qualification hopes withing grasp, after losing 2-1 to favourites Argentina in Sunday’s opening game.
Back home, over 170 million Nigerians will be counting on the team to get the job done and progress for the first time in 16 years to the knock-out phase of the tournament.
“I always try to prove myself and to be there, to play for Nigeria because I play for the badge. I play for the people back home, who are watching us on the screen. That is all I can say,” Emenike added.
Torrents of criticisms were laboured upon the three-time Afcon winners following their display against ‘Team Melli’ at the Arena da Baixada, where they appeared to be sapping themselves into the final third before shooting blunt. Coach Stephen Keshi, who is expected to be planning for tonight’s clash with a heightened level of expectations in search of his first win against Uefa region teams, took a huge share of the blames.
Emenike admits the team’s disappointment for not hitting the South American amazon running, but feels they must fight for a win against Safet Susic’s side.
Emenike said: “When things don’t go well, everyone speaks, everyone talks the way they like”.
“But what can you do? You just have to carry on working hard, that’s all you can do. The pressure has to be there. The match didn’t go the way we wanted, we just have to carry on and win the Bosnia and Herzegovina game and see what happens. The game against Iran was disappointing.”
Nigeria, more-or-less need a match-winning performance from several of its world renowned attackers overnight and the Fenerbahce man, who is making his first World Cup appearance, knows the average football-loving citizen wouldn’t forgive the team for depriving them their attachment to bed and the solemn melodies of sleep for the slightest form of disappointment after 90 minutes of the 11:00pm kick-off at the Arena Pantanal.
“Even the people on the street go in to watch Nigeria play, so we always want to try our best to make the country happy, because everyone always wants to watch Nigeria play and always wants us to do well,” Emenike explained.
Centre-back Godfrey Obaobona injured his ankle against Iran and is likely to be replaced by experienced skipper Joseph Yobo, who is two matches shy of his century.
Yobo, alongside Lille Metropole of France shot-stopper and assistant captain, Vincent Enyeama, have brought unparalleled level of leadership to the squad, according to the 27-year-old striker.
“[Yobo] is always trying to speak to the players, [letting us know the Iran result] was not the end of the world. Because we could go out there and beat Bosnia and still go through.”
Stoke City forward Osaze Odemwingie could start against the ‘Golden Lillies’ as Keshi searches for more firepower up-front.
Coach Susic could opt to start scorer of Bosnia’s maiden World Cup goal Vedad Ibisevic from the bench, but captain Emir Spahic is expected to be included in the team sheet, after recovering from knee injury, while Sejad Salihovic is doubtful.
Referee: Peter O’Leary from New Zealand.