Strange things happen in the world of football with upsets being one of them. Of course this is what Malawi and their Belgian tactician, Tom Saintfiet, will be dreaming of despite their public blustering of their being in Calabar to stun the home side.
But we all know that this is practically impossible and for the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), the Super Eagles and Nigerian fans the issue is not the Flames but who will be our opponents in the final deciding round of the race to secure one of the five African tickets to the World Cup finals in Brazil.
Even when the draws for the second phase of the African qualifying series were made last year it was clear that only a collapse of staggering proportions would have seen the Eagles not making it to the final qualifying round.
And now the Eagles are through to this stage, this is where the real work starts.
This is where we need to harbour some reservations if not for anything because we have suffered reversals at this stage previously after thinking we were home and dry.
November 12, 1977 is still remembered in the annals of Nigerian football with much anguish! The Green Eagles were on the verge of qualifying for their first-ever World Cup finals having put themselves in a great position of only needing a draw at home to Tunisia to make it to Argentina’78.
But alas it was not to be, before a jam-packed National Stadium, Lagos and with millions watching on television around the country, Nigerian fans were stunned when an own goal by one of the nation’s best-ever defenders, Godwin Odiye sent the dream going up in smoke.
Eight years later history was to repeat itself somewhat with the same opponents, Tunisia again denying us a possible place at Mexico’86 when they beat us 2-0 on home soil to go through to the final World Cup African group qualification series on the back of a 2-1 aggregate win.
Nigeria was to make it a hattrick of last minute woes when again in 1989 the Eagles needed only a draw against the Indomitable Lions in Yaounde to secure an Italia’90 ticket. Again a 1-0 loss to the Lions was to once again put paid to the World Cup dream.
This is the position we are once again heading to and I will love to appeal to the Federation to ensure all is done not to turn this opportunity into another anguish. While not saying they should pamper the players, the Glass House should remember that they are the most important actors in this play and as such should not allow any distractions like bonus creep in and end up rocking the boat.
And so as we await the outcome of today’s encounter in Calabar, we should not lose sight of the fact that the draws for the final qualifying round will soon be made so that we can immediately swing into action to prepare for the “mother of all football battles” for the second and decisive leg taking place November 15 to19.