Punchng– Algeria coach Georges Leekens is banking on Napoli left-back Faouzi Ghoulam to prevent Nigeria’s Premier League duo Alex Iwobi and Ahmed Musa from hitting the Desert Foxes on the counterattack during their Russia 2018 World Cup Group B qualifier in Uyo on Saturday.
Ghoulam, who was struggling with a muscular pain, picked up a groin injury while training with the Desert Foxes in Algiers ahead of the clash against the Super Eagles. There were fears the 25-year-old would miss the encounter, but reports in Algerian media on Thursday claimed the hard-tackling defender, who represented the North African country at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, was available for selection for the Uyo game after he participated in the team’s final training ahead of their trip to Nigeria.
Algeria were dealt a huge blow this week after Dinamo Zagreb forward Hilal Soudani, Montpellier attacking midfielder Ryad Boudebouz and Lyon midfielder Rachid Ghezzal withdrew from the fixture due to injuries.
Leekens was forced to invite Arsenal’s 18-year-old midfielder Ismael Bennacer, Qatar-based attacker Baghdad Bounedjah and Lille forward Yacine Benzia for the crucial clash.
Influential Algerian outlet Le Buteur reported on Thursday that Ghoulam had recovered and fit for the game against the Eagles. His job is to prevent Nigeria from launching attacks through the right channel through Iwobi and Musa.
“Leekens knows that Ghoulam’s absence against Nigeria will be felt on the field, especially when forwards such as Iwobi, Ighalo and Ahmed Musa from Leicester will attack from the right side,” Le Buteur quoted team sources as saying.
Meanwhile, Leekens has urged his players to rise to the challenge each time they are attacked by the Eagles during the match, warning the team they will pay dearly if they allow Nigeria’s attackers to get behind their defence.
The Belgian said, “You have to play as a whole. You have to stay well on the ground. Nigeria are going to rush to the attack at the start of the game, so we have to be careful.
“To achieve a good result in this match, we have to stay in the same position even when we advance to the midfield or in attack,” the former Lokeren manager told reporters before travelling with his team to Nigeria.
Leekens believes the 1990 African champions can capitalise on Nigeria’s defensive vulnerabilities as they look to get their World Cup qualification back on track after their 1-1 home draw against Cameroon on October 9, the same day the Eagles stunned Zambia 2-1 in Ndola.
He said, “The defence of Nigeria has certain shortcomings that need to be taken into account. It will have to be marked, it is imperative. To achieve a good result, there must be one or more goals. They will rush to attack. It is necessary to be in place at the beginning of the meeting then to operate by counterattacks.”