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Slimani was tougher to face than Mahrez, says Nigeria’s Ezenwa

4:05 PM GMT+4 21/03/2020
Islam Slimani, Riyad Mahrez
In a conversation with Goal, the Super Eagles shot-stopper revealed the toughest opponent he’s ever faced and the most memorable game in his career

Nigeria goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa has picked Algeria and Monaco forward Islam Slimani as the toughest player he has ever faced.

Ezenwa was in goal when the Super Eagles battled Algeria during the 2018 World Cup qualifying fixture at Stade Mohamed Hamlaoui in November 2017.

Both teams settled for a share of the spoils as Yacine Brahimi's 88th-minute penalty cancelled out John Ogu’s opener in the encounter.

Although he was anticipating the greatest challenge from Mahrez in the fixture, the Heartland FC goalkeeper recalled Slimani was on parade from start to finish and gave him a torrid time.

When quizzed about the toughest player he has ever played against, Ezenwa told Goal: “Algeria's Islam Slimani. We played them during the World Cup qualifiers in Algeria and he is a special player.

“I was expecting Mahrez to give us a hell of a problem in that game but Slimani got everybody panicking in defence.

“We got a 1-1 draw in the game but I see Slimani as the toughest opponent I've ever faced.”

Slimani who is currently on loan at Monaco from Premier League side Leicester City, is having an impressive 2019-20 campaign in Ligue 1 with a return of nine goals and eight assists in 18 appearances so far.

After rising through the Nigerian youth ranks, Ezenwa was first called up to the Super Eagles camp in 2015 by Sunday Oliseh, and he came on as an 81st-minute substitute in their 2-0 friendly win over Niger.

The 31-year-old has played in several competitions with the national team including the 2016 and 2018 African Nations Championships, 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, and he was part of the country's 23-man squad at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

A match at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium is a stand-out for the Bayelsa-born goalkeeper, however, where he lived up to expectations in the absence of Carl Ikeme by making crucial saves to give Nigeria a 4-0 win over their arch-rivals, the Indomitable Lions.

“There are many memorable moments but the special one I can never forget is the day I was called up to represent Nigeria against Cameroon,” he continued.

“It was my first game in the World Cup qualifiers and it's a game I'm not going to forget in my life. That made people know Ezenwa in the country.”