We expect tougher challenge from Mali, says Finidi George

Super Eagles Coach, Finidi George, is expecting Mali to give his team a tougher fight than the Blacks Stars of Ghana did in their last friendly game in Morocco.

Nigeria will, today, meet Mali in their second match of the FIFA window after beating Ghana 2-1 on Friday in Marrakech, Morocco.

The Super Eagles interim coach used some new players in the game against the Black Stars because he didn’t want to overload the players, especially those who featured prominently at the last Africa Cup of Nations in Cote d’Ivoire.

He said he would continue on that line, with those who didn’t get much game time against Ghana offered the opportunity to earna permanent position in the squad.

Defender Kenneth Omeruo, who missed the Ghana match due to injury, is uncertain for the today’s game, and Finidi said yesterday that the doctors would examine the former Chelsea star to ascertain his level of fitness just before kickoff today.

Apart from Omeruo, Calvin Bassey, who also missed the game against Ghana through injury, has left the Eagles’ camp for his club, Fulham, for urgent analysis by the club’s medical team.
Those absences notwithstanding, there is a new buzz in the team with some players confessing that they feel relieved that they have been given opportunity to show exactly what they can do as opposed to the straitjacket pattern the team adopted during the AFCON, which, they said, limited some of the players.

In the game against Ghana, the Super Eagles adopted a 3-5-2 formation instead of the 3-4-3 that Jose Peseiro used at the AFCON. The coach welcomed back Wilfred Ndidi, Cyriel Dessers, Kelechi Iheanacho, and Bright Osayi-Samuel to the starting line up with a new boy, Benjamin Tanimu, making his debut for the team in defense.

On today’s game, George said: “Definitely, we are going to see new players. We cannot overload the players. Some will come in, and we will see the areas where they can help. ”

Mali is a team that has been on the ascendancy since 2023. They showed the quality in their squad at the last AFCON, where they were on the verge on beating Cote d’Ivoire in the quarterfinals before an unexpected collapse late in the game gave the hosts the semifinal ticket.

Against Nigeria, Mali, just like the Super Eagles, will use the game to test some of their new stars ahead of the 2026 World Cup qualifying series, which resumes in June.

Coach Eric Chelle is in this FIFA window without midfield super star, Yves Bissouma, preferring to give other players chance to prove their worth. In all, 11 players from Mali’s AFCON squad are not in the current squad. But captain, Hamari Toure, is still in the team as he is expected to marshall the Malian defence.

An imposing figure, Traore, who plays for Real Sociedad in the Spanish La Liga, can operate from any of the full back positions.

There is also Amadou Haidara, an energetic box-to-box midfielder, who plays for RB Leipzig in the German Bundesliga and El Bilal Toure, who plays in the same Atalanta of Italy with Ademola Lookman.

Toure is a pacy attacker, whose consistent movement is expected to keep Super Eagles’ defenders busy all through the game.

Explaining his choices for today’s game, Chelle said he picked the squad based on the players’ current form.

“Like many players, Bissouma deserves to be selected, it’s just a choice. In my diamond, there are players right now who are slightly safer. That doesn’t mean he won’t be called again.”

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