Players of the Super Eagles realize that today’s Cup of Nations quarter final duel with the Elephants of the Cote d’Ivoire is the biggest test of character that any of them will ever go through in a long time to come.
They chorused while training in Rustenburg that today’s clash will be like none other.
On paper, the Ivorians have better rating as a team and on the balance, as individual players. But this tournamet is different and has everyone that football is all about current form.
There is hardly anything to choose from five previous Cup of Nations clashes between these two West African giants.
On their way to lifting their first title, on home soil in 1980, the Eagles led by Christian Chukwu could not break the Ivorian defence in a 0-0 draw in Lagos, and had to battle hard to overcome resilien Egypt in their third game to reach the semi finals.
Ten years later when Algeria hosted, both teams were in the same group. In the final group phase match Nigeria held on to a goal by Rashidi Yekini (of blessed memory) in the second minute to go through to the semi finals.
Four years later when both teams clashed in the semi finals of the 19th edition of the Cup of Nations in Tunisia, the Ivorians went ahead twice but Nigeria replied each time, and the affair had to be settled by penalty shoot-out after 2-2 draw, which Nigeria won 4-2.
Again in Egypt in 2006, Elephants avenged by pipping the Eagles 1-0 in their semi final clash, the same result when both teams clashed in the group phase at the 26th finals in Ghana in 2008.
Vincent Enyeama, arguably the best goalkeeper in Africa, will stand between the rampant Ivorians and goal and he has sparkling pedigree to do a great job. Nigeria has never lost a Cup of Nations quarter final match with Enyeama in goal.
In 2006 in Egypt, Enyeama was the hero when Nigeria eliminated Cup holders Tunisia on penalty shoot-out on another memorable evening in Port Said.
In 2010, Enyeama stood firm against the Zambians in Lubango and kept his nerve to score the kick that took Nigeria to the last four.
Enyeama, whose massive intervention 36 seconds after Victor Moses’ first penalty, kept Nigeria in the good against Ethiopia on Tuesday, is expected to be protected by skipper Joseph Yobo, Godfrey Oboabona, Kenneth Omeruo and Elderson Echiejile.