Twenty-four years ago, Nigeria’s Super Eagles were at the mercy of Algeria to book their first ever FIFA World Cup appearance in the United States of America. Precisely, on October 8, 1993, Nigeria needed just a draw against then Desert Warriors to finally join great football nations of the world.
The Algerians who were playing at home with little or no chance of making it to USA ’94, were determined to spoil the fun for Nigeria.
Barely 20 minutes into that tension soaked match, Finidi George grabbed the lead for Super Eagles with Coach Clemens Westerhof on the sideline grinning from ear to ear that his dream of leading a country to the Mundial was about to materialise.
Abdelhafid Tasfaout cancelled that Nigeria advantage in the 66th minute. Thereafter, the Algerians literarily opened fire on Eagles contesting every ball and driving deep into Nigeria’s half of the pitch, searching for the winning goal. However, destiny had ordained Nigeria to end years of searching for tickets to the Mundial at that edition the Yankees were hosting. The game ended one-all with Nigeria the winner of the final round Group A that also had Ivory coast.
Interestingly, 24 years after that drama took place, Nigeria again is playing another last match-day of a World Cup with Algeria. The scenario are however different this time around. Eagles got the job done before the trip to play the Fennecs in Constantine today. In essence, today’s last Match-day Six is a mere formality: a dead rubber encounter! The only thing at stake this night is pride.
The Algerians are hoping to use the FIFA World Cup 2018 Qualification Group B match at the Stade Mohamed Hamlaoui to re-launch their battered image. The game is scheduled for 8.30pm Nigerian time.
The Desert Warriors will be hoping to end their qualifying campaign with a victory, having failed to qualify for next year’s finals which will be hosted by Russia.
They are heading into today’s match winless in Group B. They have only one draw and four defeats for their disastrous Russia 2018 campaign. Just one point from five games is certainly no good testament for a country that gave Germany, winner of the last World Cup in Brazil a scare before crashing out.
Sadly, chief handler of the Super Eagles, Gernot Rohr, is in Constantine today with half the strength of the team that shocked African Champions Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia. Six key members of the squad are down with injuries and will not be on parade against the wounded Algerians today.
Turkey-based midfielder Mikel Agu was the latest injury casualty to hit the team after Victor Moses, Moses Simon, Ogenyi Onazi, Odion Ighalo and Elderson Echiejile were ruled out of the clash against Algeria as well as the international friendly with Argentina on Tuesday in Russia.
“We have six injuries, so it means six changes at least in this game,” Rohr announced at the team’s last training session in Rabat Morocco on Wednesday evening.
Rohr’s opposite number in Algeria, the legendary Rabah Madjer will definitely look to the direction of Leicester City FC duo of Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani for the maximum damage against Nigeria.
“I have studied the Nigerian team, apart from (Alex) Iwobi, every other player is mostly a substitute for his team in Europe, but that doesn’t mean they will not be at the level to face,” Madjer said of the three-time African champions who are also struggling for recognition after missing two AFCONs back-to-back.
To further bring back the memory of October 8, 1993, Madjer has sound it loud and clear to the visitors from Nigeria that the game is no friendly and that Eagles be ready for war in the literary sense.
“The game against Nigeria is not a friendly match for me…to me it is the first game of the qualifiers for the 2018 African Cup of Nations in Cameroon,” he said.
Whether Eagles will be able to end the qualifiers unbeaten remains to be seen tonight. For Williams Troost-Ekong, whose desire is to head to Russia with no defeat, Mahrez and Slimani pose serious dangers to that ambition.
Nigeria dominated Group B having recorded four wins and one draw. Eagles collected 13 points from five matches, clear six points ahead of second-placed Zambia, who suffered a 1-0 defeat to Nigeria in Uyo last month.
S’Africa v Senegal
Algeria v Nigeria
Zambia v Cameroon
Gabon v Mali
Tunisia v Libya
DR Congo v Guinea
CIV v Morocco
Congo v Uganda
Ghana v Egypt
Senegal v S’Africa
B’Faso v Cape Verdes