Nigerian football fans have suffered heartbreak before
On paper it should be a no contest. A team populated with marquee names, two of whom have been nominated for the CAF African Footballer of the Year, ranked 63 in the world (13th in Africa) 35 places above their opponents.
And least we forget they also have the additional advantage of a partisan crowd since they will be playing at home.
So why shouldn’t Nigerian football fans rest easy snug in the knowledge that their team has finally atoned for not taking part in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea 2012 by flying to next January’s tournament in South Africa – simple because in football anything is possible!
While it is extremely unlikely that any other result other than a win will be recorded Saturday, we should not forget that the beauty of the ‘beautiful game’ is its unpredictability.
Yes the Super Eagles should have entered the game on the back of a first leg win over Liberia, but this did not materialise and both teams will be filing out at the UJ Usuene Stadium on equal footing courtesy of the 2-2 draw played in Monrovia.
I can already imagine people brushing aside this ‘doomsday scenario’ clearly not believing that anything but a home victory is possible.
But then history is replete with incidents of heartbreaks inflicted on our football psyche right before our very eyes right here in Nigeria!
Let’s cast our minds back to October 8 last year - Nigeria versus Guinea. Playing at home virtually the whole nation was certain that they would be enjoying some quality football early in 2012 because the Super Eagles would beat their foes and qualify for the Nations Cup finals.
Instead we all suffered heartbreak when the Eagles failed to soar over the visiting team and ‘dashed’ the Gabon and Equatorial Guinea 2012 ticket to the Syli Stars.
Let’s rewind further to September 2005 in Kano, Nigeria was taking on Angola. At stake was a prized ticket to Germany 2006. What happened? The Eagles played a 1-1 draw and stayed back the following summer watching the Palancas Negras showcasing their skills at the World Cup finals.
Now let’s cast our attention back much further. In 1977, (November to be precise), millions of Nigerian believed that we would be going to our first ever World Cup final in Argentina, but again came up short when an own goal gave Tunisia a 1-0 win over the Eagles at the National Stadium, Lagos.
Have we also forgotten what happened when a certain Desert Warriors came visiting less than a year after Nigeria’s greatest triumph at the 1980 Nations Cup finals – the Algerians ran away 2-0 winners taking the ticket to the 1982 World Cup along with them!
So why am writing like a doomsday prophet? Because I don’t want complacency to set in with both the players and we the fans. Our Eagles must go at the Lone Star as if they did not score two away goals.
The Eagles can not afford to drop their guard for even one second – it takes just that length of time for a goal to be scored.
Luckily the bulk of the players were in Monrovia and should thus be primed to complete the task that was going so well until the late minute blunder.
All said and done though, I seriously can’t see the Eagles not delivering the required result Saturday in Calabar, but that does not mean we should underrate the Liberians after all it was a loss to the Lone Star that almost cost Nigeria the ticket to Korea/Japan 2002!
Twenty-four hours after the ‘big boys clash’ the Golden Eaglets will also take a step to the African U17 Championships when they host Guinea. This is wishing the boys the best of luck.
CAF League: Defiant Sunshine Need a Miracle in Cairo
CAPTION: Sunshine Stars Inah Ofem (L) tussles with Waleed Ebid of Al Ahly in the first leg
Despite letting in three goals at home in Ijebu-Ode last weekend, Sunshine Stars players and officials are still insisting that they can cause a major upset by upstaging Al Ahly in the return leg and qualify for the CAF Champions League final.
The fact that they may be playing without fans in either Alexandria or Cairo is apparently not deterring the Nigerian side from being upbeat ahead of the second leg.
Speaking after the match, Sunshine Stars midfielder, Tamen Mendrano, who was on target in the match, said: “We still have second leg to play. It has happened before and we survived it. We will again take the battle to Al Ahly in the second leg.”
Not to be undone his coach, Gbenga Ogunbote was equally defiant after the six-goal thriller.
"It is not over. We will go to Cairo for our result to take us to final,” maintained Ogunbote.
“If we get the kind of officiating that we had here in Cairo, we will get to final.”
Very lovely words, but the truth of the mater is that only a miracle will see the Akure lads through to reach the final where they will meet either Esperance or TP Mazembe, because the odds are stacked against them.
Egypt will be quite chilly at this time of the year and besides the North African side does not even need to win to qualify having scored three priceless away goals.
As things stand only an outright victory can qualify Sunshine – and that is the million naira question.
So its time for all lovers of Sunshine Stars and Nigerian football in general to pray for a miracle to happen for the Akure side, which has surpassed many expectations by reaching this stage of the continent’s top club competition.