Not many Nigerian soccer fans would have wagered that Nigeria will qualify for the 2018 World Cup when it was pitched against Africa’s football power house -Algeria, Cameroon and Zambia in a group tagged, ‘Group of Death’. However, after four matches the Super Eagles top Group B with 10 points and lead closest rival with three points. A win against boastful Zambia at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo, today will qualify Nigeria for its sixth mundial, writes Kunle Adewale
N igeria will look to take a decisive step toward qualifying for the 2018 World Cup when they host Zambia in Uyo this evening in the Group B match at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo, Akwa Ibom at 6pm.
A win for the Super Eagles will mathematically secure their place at the global showpiece in Russia next year, while a draw will leave them three points clear with one match to play and a much better goal difference, but wouldn’t quite button down their World Cup spot just yet.
As for Zambia, a win is their only realistic chance of reviving their World Cup hopes. If the Southern Africans can get the better of the Super Eagles in Uyo, it would leave the teams level on points heading into the final round of matches in November.
It all seems set up for a glorious home win for Nigeria, who would love nothing more than to seal a sixth World Cup appearance in front of their fans, having already outplayed Algeria and Cameroon at the same venue.
Yet German coach Gernot Rohr has admitted that Zambia will pose a stern threat and has warned his team not to underestimate Chipolopolo.
“I can’t predict the score line against Zambia because it would not be an easy match. Zambia can be dangerous because they also have a good team. I don’t think it would be a 4-0 win for us but the most important thing for us is to win even if it’s by one or two goal difference. I have seen a lot of videos of the Zambian team and I must confess they are a very good side, much better than the team we played last October, but we are not afraid. We only have to give them respect but we won’t make the mistake Algeria made by underrating Zambia; they have quick strikers but we shall be ready for them,” Rohr told Caf’s official website
Following their impressive back-to-back wins over Algeria, Zambia would be boosted with a quiet confidence that they can upset the West African giants – especially if they are mentally strong.
“This game will be highly psychological; therefore we are working on their mental strength before the match. Every player and everyone on our bench know and believe that this time is our time. God can only show you the fish and it up to you to fish it out. Looking at the way we worked against Algeria home and away it tells a lot of stories. The boys now know and believe it can be done. Nigeria is a different team. We are not going to be big-headed because we beat Algeria. Ee are focused on looking at Nigeria only,” Coach Wedson Nyirenda told the FAZ website.
At a reception held for the Super Eagles by Akwa Ibom Governor, Udom Emmanuel on Wednesday, team Captain, Mikel Obi said the players know what is at stake and ready to give their best. “We know how important the match is; that is enough motivation to go all out and give our very best. There are several players in this team who have not played at the FIFA World Cup, they want to be there in Russia next year. The talking will be done on the pitch. I have no doubt we have the quality to achieve victory, but we will not make the mistake of under rating the Zambians,’’ he said.
Obi said that the team’s good performance in previous matches was achieved due to the focus, determination and massive support of all Nigerians.
“We believe the same indices are in place today against Zambia; we have played four matches in the campaign so far, but this one is the match. We are fully focused and ready. All we want is the usual support and encouragement by everyone involved, including the fans that will turn out at the match venue,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, President of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Amaju Pinnick, has tasked the Super Eagles to be calm but clinical against their opponent. “The tendency is for teams to get uptight and tensed for this kind of match. I have spoken to them and the approach should be to take full control from the beginning and take the chances that come without being too anxious. We defeated the African champions, Cameroon, by maintaining focus and with the team imposing its game and taking the chances that came their way. That should be the approach today.”
The two teams have met 18 times according to Fifa’s statistics database, with Nigeria claiming seven wins compared to five for Chipolopolo. Their last meeting was in October last year in Ndola, where the Super Eagles claimed a 2-1 away victory.
In the other Group B game, Cameroon and Algeria will battle for nothing but pride when they lock horns at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaoundé today. The Indomitable Lions, along with their North African opponents have already seen their Word Cup hopes go up in smoke with two rounds of fixtures still remaining.
Cameroon have conjured a mere three points from four fixtures with three draws and one defeat. Despite their hopes of reaching next year’s showpiece dashed, Hugo Broos believes there is still a lot to play for in the Cameroon capital.
“We need to win the game even though this will not change much in the group, we promised not to be at the last position at the end. There are also the Fifa rankings if we go on losing our position would be worse. We are going to win for the pride and honour,” Broos said.
As for Algeria, the Fennec Foxes have endured a terrible campaign by their high standards with back-to-back defeats to Zambia highlighting what has been a disappointing qualifying campaign.