Nigeria’s Super Eagles and the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon face off for one of the remaining 29 places of the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup – three countries have so far clinched qualification – host Russia, Brazil and Iran.
Nigerians have been in ecstasy with the senior national women’s basketball team, D’Tigress achieving the bragging epithet of “African champions” as they emerged winners of the 2017 FIBA Women’s Afrobasket on Sunday, and on top of that the incentive of qualifying for the FIBA Women’s World Cup in Spain next year.
Attentions now shift to football; time has presented itself to the Super Eagles to cap what has been a remarkable week in the journal of Nigeria sports.
Going to the Matchday 3 encounter, Friday, Nigeria sit top of Group B, six points from two wins, while Cameroon have two points in as many matches.
— Nigeria Super Eagles (@NGSuperEagles) September 1, 2017
Being top is not a very comfortable affair, carefulness and caution are of great importance as a slight loss of control can be detrimental- scenarios can emerge over the two legs- one of which is plummeting from 4 points lead to being 2 points adrift.
In a less severe case, 4 points trimmed to just a point. And, if one cares to pay attention to Hugo Broos’ goal of Cameroon taking 4 points, that’s a possible scenario of being tied on points. Altogether, so much hinges on who wants it more, the onus is on Nigeria to consolidate the 4-point lead.
Victory will be precious. Conscious of this sentiment is team captain Mikel Obi when he said,
“These three points will go a long way in our qualifying campaign. We are on top of the table on six points and we want to win. Cameroon also want to win, so it’s really going to be a do-or-die affair. We are looking forward to the game and we want to make sure we qualify and hopefully we will do that. We need to make sure we qualify first. There is a big task ahead of us”
Both sides have clashed 20 times – including competitive and friendly games. Nigeria won 10, while Cameroon got four wins, while six of the 20 past encounters ended in draw.
— Opta Nigeria (@OptaNGR) September 1, 2017
But the number is nothing when compared with relevance.
Cameroon, history reveals have got it when it mattered – had Nigeria avoided three defeats (in 1984, 1988, 2000) out of those four, the African Champions’ five Africa Cup of Nations successes would have been two. 1 less than Nigeria’s – and Nigeria would have got six!
The fourth loss, though not a final but was no less important. 1990 World Cup Qualifier, 2nd leg, Group Stage: Cameroon torpedoed Nigeria’s bid of qualifying for the world cup as they won 1-0 in Yaounde. Nigeria crashed out of the race while Cameroon beat Tunisia 3-0 on aggregate in the final play-off round to fly Africa’s flag alongside Egypt in Italy.
Goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa, China based duo of Benjamin Moukando and Christian Bassogog, Porto’s Vincent Aboubakar, Sebastian Siani, Stoke city’s Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, to list but six – the current Cameroon team have players of intimidating qualities, blend of flair and brawn and are capable of puncturing holes in any teams’ strength. Add to that, Hugo Broos’ undeniable knack of assembling a victorious team – the February’s triumph in Gabon is a case in point.
— Opta Nigeria (@OptaNGR) August 31, 2017
Super Eagles team is a work in progress, largely fledgling. This stage is a new territory to some of its members, and some experienced ones are inclined to make occasional blunders as evident in the 2-0 loss Bafana Bafana of South Africa in 2019 AFCON qualifier.
Goalkeeping department has been a cause of concern – Ikechukwu Ezenwa has got the nod to start between the sticks following Daniel Akpeyi’s injury and Carl Ikeme recently diagnosed of leukaemia.
Alex Iwobi’s absence too is a big blow, albeit the presence of players such as Victor Moses, Odion Ighalo, Mikel Obi should galvanize every other player and when attackers are on song and are making right movements, Mikel can supply the necessary passes.
The caveats are there, and one can understandably be petrified but an epic renaissance of 2004-sized performance in both legs from the Super Eagles can tame the Indomitable Lions.
Just like now, Cameroon were reigning African champions when they met Nigeria in the quarter-final of the Tunisia 2004 AFCON. Samuel Eto’o gave Cameroon the lead before a sumptuous free-kick from Austin Okocha restored parity for Nigeria. John Utaka consummated a brilliant pass from Nwankwo Kanu to make it 2-1 for Nigeria. Heart was in mouth as the Cameroonians fought to fetch something out of the game, but the Nigeria side held on to secure the win. Resilient. Unswerving. Stoic. Any would fit the description, one of those matches where Super Eagles were truly super.
The Egyptian referee Gehad Zaghloul Ibrahim Selim Grisha and Gambian referee Papa Gassama will handle the 1st and the 2nd leg respectively. Grisha took charge of Nigeria’s matchday 1 encounter against Zambia in Ndola, which the Super Eagles won 2-1 and Gassama was at the centre when the Super Eagles thrashed Algeria 3-1 in Uyo on matchday 2. It bodes well for Nigeria I suppose.
Here’s hoping Nigeria take the spoils in Uyo, eke out points in Yaounde on Monday.
Article written by Innocent Okpako