‘Seye Akanmu-bode previews the big match between Nigeria and Cameroon.
Perhaps if the Super Eagles players knew they would be playing the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in the second round of the Afcon in Egypt, they would have played to win or at least draw the last group game again Madagascar. Their lackadaisical approach to the match which ended in a shocking 2-0 defeat for the Eagles meant a date with their perennial rival,Cameroon. Nigeria won the Afcon before Cameroon when we won at home in Lagos in 1980. Curiously, Cameroon has won three of their Afcon titles at the expense of the Nigeria .
In 1984 in Côte d’Ivoire,who can forget easily the referee screaming Abega,Miller,Abega,Miller as the combination of the deadly duo inflicted a 3-1 defeat to the Eagles,to give Cameroon its first title. African journey man,Claude Le Roy was to coach the Lions in Maroc 88 as the Lions again stood against the Eagles,winning by a lone goal.The third Afcon success of Cameroon came again at the expense of Nigeria.
This is the most painful as Cameroon defeated Nigeria right at the national stadium ,surulere to win the Afcon hosted by Ghana and Nigeria as co-hosts . The Lions raced to a 2-0 lead in the first half as a Samuel Eto’o and Patrick Mboma goals put the Lions in the commanding seat. A late first half goal by Chukwu Nduke reduced the deficit. Then,few minutes into the second half, a thunderous shot by the magical Jay-Jay Okocha beat goal keeper Alioum Boukar to level the scores to 2-2 to bring a wild eruption of ecstasy and delirium among the Nigerian fans present in the stadium. The two teams battled to a stalemate as the match which entered into extra time couldnt produce any goal. Then the controversial moment,Victor Ikpeba played a penalty that seemed to have ricocheted off the upright bar and crossed the line,but the referee counted it as null. Perhaps, VAR in the present era would have perfectly judged the situation. A last penalty taken by the legendary captain,Rigobert Song gave the Lions the trophy to the agony of the Super Eagles as the skipper Sunday Oliseh was in tears when called to the podium to take the fair play trophy.
That victory was the last the Lions would enjoy against the Eagles in a competive match.In Tunisia 2004,Nigeria got a sweet revenge against Cameroon when we defeated them 2-1 in the quarter finals. Samuel Eto’o had scored for the Lions in the early part of the first half ,again the mercurial Jay Jay Okocha equalized for Nigeria few minutes to the end of the first half with a majestically taken free kick. Then ,15 minutes to the end of the match,KANU Nwankwo skilfully launched a well tailored pass to John Utaka and he made no mistake as he netted the winner for the Eagles.
When the qualifiers for Russia 2018 started, Cameroon had been crowned Afcon champion in 2017. But the Super Eagles showed class by embarrassing the Lions with 4-0 victory in Abuja. Nigeria later got a 1-1 draw in Yaoundé having already qualified for the World Cup in Russia.
Now,the two teams are set for a showdown in Alexandria ,Egypt for a place in the quarter final. For the two teams,a lot is at stake. Beside the bragging right between two perennial rivals,a quarter final spot is at stake. Nigeria missed the last two Afcon and surprisingly lost to Madagascar in the last game. They would want to prove that they are still a force to be reckoned with as far as African football is concerned. The Indomitable Lions on the other hand failed to qualify for the world cup and would want to forget that in a hurry by making a great showing in Egypt.They also want to prove that their victory in 2017 wasn’t a fluke. This was much stated by the débutant coach,the legendary Clarence Seedorf. He said ,”Nigeria is a top team,with lots of quality players. It will be difficult against a good side but we have what it takes to beat them.” He further remarked ” our target is to successfully defend our trophy and we will fight till the end to achieve our objective”.
On his part, coach Gernot Rohr opined that ” the real tournament is starting for us now,I think it will be a very tough match ,but there is a small difference between both sides and so we have to prepare very well”
Looking at the match, it is no doubt going to be a cracker. Both teams are yet to light up the tournament. A goalless draw with Benin was followed with same scoreline against Ghana,in fact, Cameroon had the goal post to thank as Ghana hit the bar on not less than two occasions.Cameroon got their only victory in its last group match against minnows Guinea Bissau as goals from Banana Yaya and Stephanie Bahoken gave the Lions a 2-0 victory to set up a date with Nigeria. The Cameroonian have in goal Andre Onana who was pivotal for the Ajax team that made a surprise run to the semi final of the UEFA Champions League last season. However, the attacking strength of strikers such as Clinton N’jie,Christian Bassogog and PSG’s Eric Maxim Choupo – Moting is yet to set the team on a goal scoring form.
For the Super Eagles,a clean sheet in two matches against Burundi and Guinea was dented with a surprise 2-0 loss to Madagascar to surrender the group leadership to their conqueror from the Indian Ocean and thus exposing their defensive frailties.Against the Lions,there is no room for any lacklustre performance as witnessed in the their last game as Cameroon is big enough to end the team’s Afcon dream. The defensive quartets of Shehu Abdullahi ,Troost Ekong,Omeruo and Ola Aina must be as solid as never before. Wilfred Ndidi is expected to continue his yeoman’s job in the midfield alongside Etebo to shield the defence while Iwobi must rise to the occasion by marshalling the midfield. Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo must shake off their jittery in front of goal by getting the right composure expected of quality strikers which they are. Overall,the team must show more cohesion and determination as anything less than this would spell doom for the team. Coach Rohr too must get his tactics right as he is yet to really convince some Nigerians of his tactical prowess especially in the area of making early substitutions when things aren’t going well for the team.
The match promises to be a tough and close one considering what we witnessed in the Morocco vs Benin and Uganda vs Senegal quarter final games . I predict a slim victory for the Super Eagles as we posses the quality to beat the Lions. However ,nothing is assured until the end of the match that could drag into penalties.