By Jude Opara, Abuja
Come September 1, the Super Eagles of Nigeria will be hosting their arch rivals, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in a high octane Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
The match will indeed determine whether Nigeria will be making her sixth appearance at the World Cup or not. Currently, dictating the pace in Group B of the qualifier with maximum six points, the Super Eagles know that a victory over Cameroon will leave them with just one more victory to fly to Russia next year. On the other hand, a defeat will not only hand Cameroon a five points boost, but it will as well dampen the morale of the Eagles ahead of the return leg of the twin header in Yaoundé on September 4.
Many analysts are apprehensive over the ability of the Super Eagles to defeat Cameroon, who are currently the African champions given the rather lack lustre performance of the team against South Africa in the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier played last June where the team lost 2-0 to the visiting Bafana Bafana.
But with the return of notable players like captain, Mikel Obi, Chelsea wing back, Victor Moses, defender William Troost-Ekong and striker, Odion Ighalo, many analysts believe that will surely be a boost to the Super Eagles.
Proprietor of JC Raiders FC of Jos, Lumumba Adeh who spoke on a radio programme monitored in Abuja over the weekend said that Nigerians should not continue to judge the Super Eagles based on the defeat to South Africa last June because no two matches are the same.
“I am speaking as somebody that played the game and today I am also managing football. I know that there are no two matches that are strictly the same. Also I believe strongly that the return of the likes of Mikel, Moses, Ighalo and Ekong can make all the difference.”
If previous records are any thing to go by, there is little or no reason for Nigerians to be apprehensive. Since 1960 when the two countries played for the first time, they have confronted each other 20 times with the record favouring Nigeria with 10 victories, four defeats and six draws.
Stretching it further, of the 20 times they have clashed, six of them are just international friendlies. Again Nigeria has the upper hand with two wins, one defeat and three draws.
But at times records do not determine the outcome of a game; and this means that we must be very careful with records because if we over relax, it has a way of encouraging complacency while at the same time gingering the Lions to up their game.
My take from the above is that we must respect Cameroon yes, but we must not be seen to be afraid of them because of some recent developments since they are now the African champions. Nobody goes to a battle from a position of fear and expect to come out victorious.
The NFF must also do what is necessary to draft their in-house psychologist, Dr. Robinson Okosun into the team. It is rather absurd that for certain reasons we are yet to find out, they will abandon their trained psychologist while everyday we see reasons why he should be there.
Alternatively, if they believe they are not ready to give their own staff the opportunity to practice what he knows how to do best; they should spend the extra money and provide a psychologist for the team. A national team is supposed to have a qualified psychologist who should gauge the mood of each player at a particular time and advise on how to approach him.
However, a careful look at the team released by the technical adviser, Gernot Rohr, one can say that most of the best legs Nigeria can boast of at the moment were included but one area of concern is the goalkeeping area which has been a suspect since the sickness of first choice, Carl Ikeme.
The likes of Chippa United FC of South Africa goalkeeper, Daniel Akpeyi and FC Ifeanyi Ubah safe hands have not really given Nigerians that reason to believe in them. That ugly development has resulted in the call in certain quarters for the recall of former goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama who has left the team for the past two years.
Another area of concern in my view is the left back area where we seem to have only one natural left footer, Elderson Echejile. My worry stems from the fact that he is aging and may no longer be at the peak of his career. It will really be a huge task for him to tame the likes of Vincent Aboubakar and Christian Bassogog.
There is also the rumour in football circles that some of the players especially those plying their trade in England were included because we want to help them get the mandatory 75% appearance for their national teams which will help them get their work permit. I don’t think that such a make or mar encounter is one to be used to please any individual or group. We must field our first 11 because the Cameroonians are not coming here to joke.
Many analysts are of the view that given the form of the Lions who also had the opportunity of playing at the last FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia earlier in the year, the Super Eagles handlers must make sure that part of their preparation is to ensure that the boys were in good physical shape ahead of the encounter.
We all know that the Cameroonians always play physical football, therefore we must assemble boys who are physically fit to match them strength for strength because that is the only way we can upstage them.
However, if we do all that is necessary we will surely get the desired result. After a look at the teams where the Lions are plying their trade, I did not see any one of them in such high flying teams and that suggests that the Super Eagles must not show too much respect to their Cameroonians in the two legged encounter.
Interestingly, Amaju Pinnick, the president of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) has assured that his board will put in place all that is necessary to ensure that the Eagles tamed the Lions when they clash this Friday to brighten their chances of picking the sole group ticket to Russia. All hands must be on deck to ensure that such comes to past.
Pinnick who spoke to a foreign media channel last week said his federation has done all that is necessary to see the country qualify. He revealed that already his advanced team has gone to Cameroon and has secured a good accommodation for the team; he also assured that every other necessary action will be taken when it is due.
They must match words with action by ensuring that the boys got everything due to them so as not to have any unnecessary distraction. And most importantly, the team must not embark on self destruct like they did three years ago when they failed to qualify for the 2015 AFCON.
Also as important is the fact that the Super Eagles technical adviser, Gernot Rohr must be made to know that the mentality of Nigerian players is miles different from that of the European players he has been sued to. This means that the idea of allowing the players any slim opportunity to mix and interact with their friends and relations before the match must be avoided. This is not the time to allow them to socialize and party before the game; the camp commandant must be at the top of his game this time around.
They must remember and know it that a defeat here in Nigeria may as well mean a goodbye to the Russian aspiration because if that happens, there is no tactic the Cameroonians will not employ to also win at home to go top of the group with an unassailable eight points. We must avoid the situation where we will begin to do the catch up and the unpalatable permutation of who will drop a point and who will not.
Drawing from what happened in the past, it should be given that part of the arrangement which the NFF claims it has tied up includes the smooth arrangement for the aircraft that will fly the team to Cameroon as soon as the game in Nigeria ends.
Recall that during the ill-fated AFCON 2017 qualifier against Egypt in Kaduna, the Super Eagles had to go through a rough experience of returning to Abuja by road before waiting for about nine hours inside an aircraft before flying to Egypt. Surely, such may have contributed to that second leg defeat.
The NFF must ensure that we avoid all those unforced errors which we usually make during big occasions like the one at hand. We are still remembering how South Africa almost walked-over Nigeria in Uyo last June just because the NFF forgot to produce the match balls.
Then it was said that balls had been lying at the Apapa port awaiting clearing by the NFF but the leadership seemed not interested in delegating responsibilities. If South Africa had refused to provide their own ball, they would have walked-over Nigeria at home.
Against Cameroon, given the seeming bad blood that may have existed due largely to the role the NFF president Amaju Pinnick played in the ultimate defeat and retirement of Cameroon’s Isah Hayatou as CAF president, they may not spare us if such a golden opportunity presents itself to them.
On the other hand, the fans who are always the 12th player must be ready to roar and shout their darling team to victory. The support must be total and complete and unrelenting even if the goals do not come in time.
In fact all football stakeholders must rally behind the NFF at a time like this. This qualification must be seen by all and sundry as a Nigerian project and not that of the NFF. If we qualify for the World Cup, it is the Nigerian flag that will be hoisted and not that of any single individual or group.
It is delightful to hear that the federal government has long approved all the funds that would be needed to prosecute this match. We equally hope that the release has been effected in good time to ensure that there is no room for excuses from any quarters.
The Senate Committee has already promised that they will continue to assist the NFF to ensure that whatever it takes to avoid what led to the disappointing defeat to South Africa in the AFCON qualifier in June is avoided in the two legs against Cameroon.
According to Senator Obinna Ogba, the chairman of the committee, the committee will mobilize to be in Uyo to render any necessary support and assistance to the NFF to make sure victory is secured.
Truly, that is the way to go because football is very dear to the heart of Nigerians. One can effectively argue that football is one factor that has a way of bringing Nigerians together irrespective of race or religion. So we must at all times continue to do whatever we can to help the national team to coast to victory against their arch rivals.