By Adebayo Olodan
The Super Eagles welcomes African champion, Cameroon in what can be described as ‘heavyweight bout’ in a 2018 World Cup qualifying clash 6pm at Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo, tomorrow (Friday).
Nigeria is presently sitting pretty at the top of Group B with a full haul of six points, following victories over Zambia and Algeria in the first two matches while Cameroon is placed second on the log with two points, having played 1-1 draws against the same opponents.
The two teams will again go head to head three days later at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo, Yaounde and should the Super Eagles win both clashes against the Indomitable Lions and neither Zambia nor Algeria manage to claim the six points on offer from their two meetings, then Gernot Rohr’s team will qualify for Russia 2018 with two rounds to spare.
Coach Rohr has had to deal with some selection headaches ahead of the match in Uyo, with Arsenal star, Alex Iwobi ruled out because of injury and the persistent below par performance of his goalkeepers since the retirement of Vincent Enyeama and the ill health of Carl Ikeme.
The German tactician will have to address the right-back problem as the Eagles have played with make-shift full-backs. He will need to select between Shehu Abdullahi and Ola Aina (if cleared by FIFA)for the right-back slot just as he would have to work on the fitness of his players, some of whom have continued to warm the substitutes’ bench at their various clubs in Europe. Rohr must also work assiduously on Kelechi Iheanacho, Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo as the team has found goal scoring an arduous task in recent matches. Had the strikers been clinical enough, the Eagles would have avoided defeat against it in the African Nations Cup qualifier against South Africa. The gaffer will also have to deal with the issue of late arrival with no fewer than four of his players still being expected in camp three days to the match.
More importantly, Rohr will need to make a decision on who stands between the sticks among the more experienced Daniel Akpeyi, Dele Alampasu and Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who have all failed to win the trust of Nigerian fans, so far.
“We have Akpeyi, we have (Ikechukwu) Ezenwa, we have (Dele) Alampasu, we will see. “We have a local goalkeeper, we have a very young one and we have another one (Akpeyi), who is more experienced.
“He is playing in South Africa, and we will see with our goalkeeper coaches to determine who will start the game,” said Rohr.
Despite his challenges, the coach is confident his boys will get the job done over two legs.
“To start with, we are not going into those two games with a loser mentality. We strongly believe we’ll win, that is our belief, so I’m not thinking about my fate at this time. The mission is only to win our remaining matches and qualify Nigeria to the FIFA World Cup in Russia,” the German said.
As for Cameroon, the team emerged Africa Cup of Nations champions since their last action in the World Cup qualifiers and Coach Hugo Broos will lead a squad confident of their ability to beat Nigeria in their own back yard.
Broos named a full-strength travelling party with Frank Zambo Anguissa, Georges Bokwé and Toko Ekambi handed a chance to impress. Also included in the squad are Christian Bassogog, Vincent Aboubakar and Benjamin Moukandjo.
Choupo Moting was recalled to the team after turning down an invite the squad that won the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.
Ajax’s young goalkeeper Andre Onana who was on parade as the Dutch team bowed out of the Europa League on Thursday was shut out.
Chinese-based forward, Basogog, however stated that his team will be out to spoil the celebration party for the Eagles.
“Nigeria is a strong team as they have very good players and many of them are playing in Europe. But we must defeat them if we are to maintain our qualifying hopes. We should take the game to them. We need to fight to defeat them,” Basogog told FIFA website.
Speaking ahead of the match, Broos said, “These are two important matches. And even after that there will be Zambia and Algeria, four important games,” he continued.
“If we still have the chance to qualify, we must take at least four points out of six against Nigeria.
“If that is not the case, I think it will not be possible to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It will become very difficult.”
Nigeria has dominated the 18 matches played by the two sides with Super Eagles winning 10, drawing five and losing only three. Also, the Eagles was able to put 26 goals past the Cameroonians, who have managed to score 16 in return.
Four of those 18 games were in previous World Cup qualification campaigns, stretching way back to 1968 (for the 1970 tournament in Mexico) and 1989 (for Italy 1990): Nigeria claimed two wins; Cameroon one, and one match was drawn.
The teams’ most recent clash was a friendly on neutral ground in Brussels on 11 October 2015: Nigeria won 3-0, thanks to goals from Efe Ambrose, Moses Simon and Odion Ighalo, while Cameroon finished the game with 10 men following the dismissal of Stephane M’Bia.
Egyptian referee, Gehad Grisha will take charge of the match and only the group winners will book their place in the finals scheduled to be hosted by Russia next year.
DO YOU KNOW?
- There were just 12 seconds between Arsenal taking a corner and Mohamed Salah scoring Liverpool’s 3rd goal of this match.
- Against Liverpool at the weekend, Arsenal did not attempt a single shot on target in a Premier League game for the first time since October 5th 2014 (vs Chelsea).
- Four of Arsenal’s eight Premier League defeats by a margin of 4+ goals have come against Liverpool at Anfield.
- Liverpool’s Sadio Mané has now had a hand in six goals in his six Premier League starts against Arsenal (four goals, two assists).
- Henrikh Mkhitaryan has equalled the Premier League record for most assists in his first three apps in a season (5 by Ruel Fox in 1994/95).
- Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino has now scored four goals in five Premier League games vs Arsenal, more than against any other opponent.
- The last time 3+ teams lost their first 3 top-flight games in a season was 1966-67; none of those sides were relegated that year.
- Cesc Fabregas has now had a hand in 14 goals in his last 13 league appearances at Stamford Bridge (five goals, nine assists).
- Since the start of 16/17, only Ousmane Dembele (103) has beaten an opponent with more dribbles than Naby Keita (93) in the Bundesliga.
- Kasper Schmeichel (1) has now saved more Premier League penalties at Old Trafford than Peter Schmeichel (0).
- 2016/17 was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s best return for both goals (6) and assists (11) for Arsenal in all competitions.
- Sadio Mané is the 3rd player to score in the first 3 EPL games of a season for Liverpool (Robbie Fowler in 94-95 and Daniel Sturridge in 13-14).
- Since August 2015, Ousmane Dembele scored more goals as a teenager than any player in the top five European leagues (18).
- Tammy Abraham’s goal was Swansea City’s first shot on target in the Premier League in 2017/18 (223 mins without one).
Guinea v Libya
Uganda v Egypt
Ghana v Congo
Nigeria v Cameroon
Cape Verde v South Africa
Tunisia v DR Congo
Morocco v Mali
Zambia v Algeria
Gabon v Cote d’Ivoire
Senegal v Burkina Faso
EUROPE (Group A)
Bulgaria v Sweden
France v Netherlands
Luxembourg v Belarus
Hungary v Latvia
Portugal v Faroe Islands
Switzerland v Andorra
Belgium v Gibraltar
Cyprus v Bosnia-Herzegovina
Greece v Estonia
Venezuela v Colombia
Chile v Paraguay
Uruguay v Argentina
Brazil v Ecuador
Peru v Bolivia
China v Uzbekistan
South Korea v Iran
Syria v Qatar
UAE v Saudi Arabia
Japan v Australia
Thailand v Iraq
Nigeria v Cameroon head-to-head
Matches played: 18
Nigeria wins: 10
Cameroon wins: 3
Nigeria goals: 26
Cameroon goals: 16