July 1, 2019 / 11:26 AM / 19 days ago

Nigeria still to find rhythm at Cup of Nations, skipper says

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) - An avalanche of criticism is only to be expected for Nigeria who are still battling to find their rhythm at the Africa Cup of Nations, captain John Obi Mikel said after Sunday’s shock loss to Madagascar.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Africa Cup of Nations 2019 - Group B - Nigeria v Burundi - Alexandria Stadium, Alexandria, Egypt - June 22, 2019 Nigeria's John Obi Mikel with coach Gernot Rohr REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

The 2-0 defeat meant Nigeria were forced into second place in Group B and could now be up against fellow heavyweights Ghana in the next round.

Madagascar’s victory was one of the great shocks in the tournament’s history and has not gone down well with Nigerian supporters.

“Obviously, the criticism will come from our people that we love. But this is football, you are going to get criticised. We have to take the criticism and improve,” Obi Mikel said.

“We didn’t play well and I think that in the tournament so far we haven’t really found our way to play,” he added.

“But we’ve won two games and lost one now. It’s better this happened now than in the knockout stages. Now we know as a team we have to improve, we have to do better.”

A defensive error allowed Madagascar to grab the early lead and a wicked deflection from a free kick gave them a second goal early in the second half against a Nigeria side who had already secured qualification and were experimenting with their line-up

“It’s normal to change the team as we were already qualified and we have 23 squad members and a lot of them deserved to play,” coach Gernot Rohr added.

“We wanted to give some rest to some of them since we had qualified before the game so I think in the mind of some players, it was not so important to win.

“But the beginning of the match, the gift for the first goal made Madagascar very strong and I have to say they deserved the victory, with their counter football and very good defensive organisation. We couldn’t find solutions,” the Nigeria coach said.

Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Alison Williams

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