AFCON 2017 QUALIFIER
The Super Eagles face an uphill task in their bid to reach the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon next year, when they meet Egypt in a Group G fixture in Alexandria this evening.
Such is the importance attached to the fixture, one of the matches on Super Tuesday across Africa, that it can fittingly be regarded as one of the most important matches by the Eagles in about three decades.
The Nigerian national team has been cornered in a dire strait and must respond by beating Egypt to guarantee its survival and future.
Anything short of a victory for coach Samson Siasia and his army will severely compromise Nigeria’s aspiration to reach Gabon 2017, making it the second time back-to-back they will be absent from the tournament since 2013 when they won the trophy in South Africa.
It is very difficult to ponder the outcome of this important match considering the adversarial nature of Nigeria and Egypt showdowns.
A slice of that timeless tradition was served on Good Friday, when Mohamed Salah beat an offside trap, to score a last gasp equaliser in Kaduna, to keep Egypt on course after Oghenekaro Etebo put Nigeria ahead on the hour in a match the Eagles dominated and should have won by a clear margin.
The Pharaohs, groomed by coach Hector Cuper, still hold a two-point advantage over their West African rival and will pull the strings before home crowd, to advance to the Nations Cup for the first time since they won the title in Angola in 2010.
It appears many people are expecting too much from the Eagles who have never beaten the Pharaohs in Egypt in their past showdowns.
By every comparison, Egypt is superior to Nigeria on the basis of the previous confrontations between the two continental power houses.
On record the Pharaohs triumphed over the Super Eagles on seven occasions out of the 18 times they have clashed since 1959.
On their part, Eagles have also shown they are no pushovers either as they won on six times, while the remaining five games were drawn.
The last time Nigeria beat Egypt was at the Africa Cup of Nations in 1990, while the Pharaohs exerted their pound of flesh by winning two of the last three fixtures in Angola at the Nations Cup and in a friendly match in Dubai in April 2012.
Eagles’ Captain, John Mikel Obi, buttressed the importance of today’s meeting on the eve of the departure to Alexandria, when he roused his colleagues to be ready to fight like they have never before.
“It is a massive battle that we are going for and there should be no illusion about it. We have to face reality and everyone has to give more than 100 percent because we just have to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations. We have to go to Alexandria and fight with everything we have,’’ Mikel pleaded.
The sudden withdrawal of Chad from the race will place an extra ounce of pressure on Nigeria as all results from previous matches involving their northern neighbours have been annulled, thus rubbishing all calculations of Nigeria qualifying as second best loser, as only three teams are now left in Group G.
Injury to goalkeeper Carl Ikeme before the team jetted out yesterday by a charter flight is not a cheering news, but the Eagles know they have to play on the front foot and try to create scoring chances similar to how to they played in Kaduna four days ago, if they are to cause any upset in Egypt.
It is not too sure how Siasia will approach the game, but the Eagles are not shorn of quality with forward players Ahmed Musa, Odion Ighalo and Simon Daddy Moses, linking up with Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi and Kelechi Iheanacho in the midfield.
That Victor Moses, Echiejile Elderson, Alex Iwobi and Umar Aminu may likely start from the bench today reinforces the depth in strength in the Eagles.
WHAT THE COACHES ARE SAYING….
“We can still make the difference in Egypt,” said a confident Samson Siasia, who has been appointed in temporary charge of the Super Eagles last month after the shock resignation of Sunday Oliseh.
“We have to encourage the boys so that they could play for Nigeria.”
“We’re going to Egypt to win. They were lucky to get an equaliser (in the first match), but we have learnt from this experience,” he said.
“We will have an attacking approach in Alexandria,” Cuper said.
“We will try to create more goal scoring opportunities and to be better than Friday’s game, as we are only looking only for a win.”
The Argentine added that playing in front of a home crowd could be an added advantage with the officials allowing up to 40 000 supporters to attend the match at Borg El-Arab Stadium.
“The presence of the fans will give us an edge. It will be different in Alexandria (than in Kaduna),” the coach added.
“We are only focusing on Nigeria’s game. That is more important for us.”
HOW THEY STAND
Team P W D L GF GA GD Pts
Egypt 2 1 1 0 4 1 3 4
Nigeria 2 0 2 0 1 1 0 2
Tanzania2 0 1 1 0 3 -3 1
Chad 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0