With Adebayo Olodan
The Super Eagles face an acid test Saturday as they host the Chipolopolo of Zambia at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo, in a 2018 World Cup qualifier.
For Coach Gernot Rohr’s team, the three points is more important than any other points gathered earlier by the team and at this stage but something inside of me tells me the Zambians may just spoil the fun for Eagles in the same manner Guinea denied us from qualifying for the 2015 African Cup of Nations.
Since that ill-fated day, the senior national team of Nigeria is yet to recover from the shock as the team missed out on the subsequent African Nations Cup in 2017.
Though a draw may not be too bad a result as the Super Eagles has the edge with three points separating them from Zambia at this stage of the qualifiers.
A win against the Zambians will save the fans the anxiety of waiting for the final round of matches with the Eagles expected to honour an away tie against Algeria, who are already out of the contest but may play a spoiler’s role in Algiers.
I have read several comments of the Super Eagles players in the newspapers with most of them boasting that Nigeria will roll over Zambia but what they forgot is that football is not played on the pages of newspapers. In most cases, it is the team that plays better with determination that gets desired result. It was this same way that our players boasted to heavens when they were to play a certain Bafana Bafana in a Nations Cup qualifier in Uyo. At the end of the encounter, the scoreboard read Nigeria 0-2 South Africa and our record of not tasting defeat in any competitive match against the lads from Nelson Mandela’s country vanished on a bad Saturday.
In as much as I don’t expect our players to say otherwise, I would prefer they do all the talking on the pitch by defeating their opponent on Saturday, even if it will be through a solitary goal and no one will care if it is scored by Daniel Akpeyi, Shehu Abdullahi or even the underperforming and erratic Elderson Echiejile.
On paper, the Eagles looks the stronger side but football is more than just assembling the best legs, a lot of things come into play.
The Zambians look the more determined and committed for this particular six-pointer match. The Chipolopolo are aware that nothing short of victory in Uyo will guarantee whether they will be the team to pick the sole ticket of the group. Also, the Zambians though not as experienced as Eagles, they are a youthful side and have more energy to burn under any condition.
While Nigeria’s coach, Rohr will have to work assiduously on team cohesion and other tactics, the Zambian boss has little efforts to put in at this stage with the larger part of the squad playing in the same leagues in the African continent. Added to this is the fact that the Chipolopolo had been in camp at a time Nigeria’s foreign-based players were just strolling to camp. It is more surprising a few of the players who did not turn out for their respective clubs in Europe at the weekend were yet to get to camp as at Tuesday morning. The implication of this is that the technical crew may not have enough time to examine the fitness of those players. Also, blending the players to play as a team becomes an onerous task for the manager with less time to practise and adopt tactics for the all-important match.
In 17 previous encounters between the two sides, Nigeria claimed the scalp of the Zambians seven times while the South African country won five duels and another five ended in draw.
For the Eagles to get the three points, Gernot Rohr must get his team selection and tactics right. He should not select his team based on experience alone but form and when things are not going right, he must be able to make his changes on time.
Barring any injury, Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong has proven they are our dependable centre backs but I expect the coach to select Ola Aina in the left-back role while Shehu Abdullahi should keep his shirt in the right side of defence.
In the midfield, John Mikel Obi, Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi and Etebo Oghenekaro(if he gets to play) must dominate possession and avoid losing the ball to the Zambians needlessly. They will also need to get those through passes to the troika of Moses Simon, Victor Moses and Odion Ighalo upfront. Ighalo for me will be crucial to the outcome of this match with his movement, speed and power like he did over two legs against Cameroon.
Finally, the supporters at the Uyo stadium must get behind the team throughout the match ala Liverpool fans at their Anfield Stadium.