Wobbly Nigeria stride on to Brazil
Nigeria arrive in Brazil on Thursday to compete in the Confederation Cup somewhat rattled after some far from convincing displays but still hopeful of causing a surprise.
Africa's representatives at the eight-team tournament, which pits continental champions against each other over the next two weeks, have shown patchy form since they surprisingly won the African Nations Cup in February with an inexperienced squad devoid of many of their major exports to the European leagues.
In four matches since their success in Johannesburg, Nigeria's Super Eagles have drawn three and won just once - a last gasp triumph against Kenya earlier this month in a World Cup qualifier.
On Wednesday night they needed another late goal, from a generously awarded free kick, to force a 1-1 draw against lowly Namibia and stay on course to qualify for next year's finals.
The draw, though, again raises questions over the Super Eagles chances at the Confederation Cup, where they start with a supposedly easy game against Tahiti in Belo Horizonte on Monday but then meet both Uruguay and Spain in their next group games.
But captain Vincent Enyeama said on Thursday, as the team left Windhoek for Rio de Janeiro, they had come up against a spirited opponent.
"You have to give credit to the way Namibia played and the saves (by) their goalkeeper but also look at the fact we had our chances earlier on to finish off the game. We've now got to put this result behind us," he told Reuters.
Coach Stephen Keshi was heavily criticised for ignoring the likes of Peter Odemwingie, Taye Taiwo and Obafemi Martins in his selections last year. But after success at the tournament in South Africa he has leeway to continue with a policy of picking younger players he feels are hungrier and more committed to the team.
But their enthusiasm is not matched by much experience, with only midfielder John Obi Mikel having any international profile. They were frequently exposed on Wednesday by the pace of the lowly-ranked Namibians and were fortunate to escape with a face-saving draw.
Former Nigeria coach Shaibu Amidu, watching the game in Windhoek, said the Super Eagles always found it hard against plucky opponents with nothing to lose.
"In Africa everyone wants to beat Nigeria," he said.
"But you will see at the Confederations Cup a Nigerian side that will lift itself almost in the same way. Our boys like a big stage to perform on."