The Super Eagles of Nigeria will Sunday, take on the Desert Foxes of Algeria in the first semifinal of the 2019 Africa up of Nations in what is expected to be an explosive encounter. More importantly, the encounter will bring back memories of the 1988 edition of the competition where penalty shootout had to separate the two teams, Kunle Adewale writes
After defeating the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in a thrilling quarter-final encounter at the Cairo International Stadium on Wednesday, the Super Eagles is set for a showdown with the Desert Foxes of Algeria, who also had to take their game beyond the extra time before seeing off the opposition put up by Cote d’Ivoire in quarter-final game the next day.
Algeria will no doubt be going for revenge on Sunday after Nigeria stopped them from booking a place in the 2018 World Cup, beating the Algerians 3-1 on home ground and drawing away in their World Cup qualifying matches.
These victories will, however, give the Super Eagles the boost for tomorrow’s semi-final game.
However, Super Eagles Manager, Gernot Rohr, had urged his players to be focused and totally committed ahead semi-final clash.
Even before knowing the identity of their AFCON 2019 semi-final opponent, Super Eagles’ technical adviser had on Thursday morning charged his wards to be focused and fully committed to the task at hand as they countenance another tough session on Sunday night at the Cairo International Stadium.
“The next match in a championship is always the toughest, so it is always important to approach it that way. That is why we must now forget what we achieved against South Africa in our quarter-final match and start to build up towards the semi-final.
“There is no time to rest on our oars. We must make all the sacrifices we can now to achieve our objectives at this tournament. We must stay focused and be fully committed.”
The three-time champions were back at the Aerosport pitch inside the Cairo Airport on Thursday morning to begin training for Sunday’s encounter against Algeria.
As a morale booster to the team, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, made a pledge of $50,000 to the team for every goal in their remaining two matches at the championship, while Femi Otedola pledged the sum of $25,000 for every goal.
Otedola has recently been involved in a number of commendable interventions for ailing former Nigerian international players, including 1980 AFCON-winning team –captain Christian Chukwuemeka Chukwu and goalkeeper Peter Fregene.
Further words of encouragement came from President Muhammadu Buhari following Wednesday night’s victory against South Africa, with the President urging “the team and their handlers to be focused, disciplined and scale the remaining two hurdles to glory.”
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Football Supporters Club, South Africa chapter, has urged the Super Eagles to remain focused and committed to being able to soar above their high-flying Algerian counterparts in the semi-finals of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
According to the chairman of the supporters’ club, Osita Okeke, the Eagles have the potential to win their remaining matches because there is an improvement in every game after their loss to Madagascar.
Okeke noted that the Super Eagles’ victory over Bafana Bafana of South Africa was awesome, though Nigerians living in South Africa could not celebrate the victory on the streets for fear of their hosts.
He appealed to the team’s head coach, Gernot Rohr, to ensure that his squad for the match is the same as that which will play the last match.
For keen followers of the Super Eagles, the match will also roll back the years.
At the same stage of the competition, Nigeria defeated Algeria 10-9 on penalty shootouts after playing 1-1 at extra time, in a match both sides ended with a man down-Nigeria lost a player to a red card, while the Algerians lost a player to the hard tackle of Bright Omokaro.
One competition Omokaro would never forget in a hurry is the 1988 Africa Cup of Nations tagged “Maroc 88”, where he was nicknamed ‘10-10’. During the semifinals between Nigeria and Algeria, the Eagles were one man down, no thanks to a red card to Ademola Adesina, and were under serious pressure. But a crunchy tackle from Omokaro to an Algerian attacker reduced the Desert Warriors to 10 men after the North African team had completed the maximum changes.
“Each time I’m on the field I tried to give my maximum best, and the match against Algeria was one match I thought I needed to rescue the country and that was why I did what I did to make sure we defeated the Algerians.
He therefore charged this current team to play with the same spirit against the Algerians tomorrow. I’m not saying they should go there to injure their opponent, rather, they should give their all and be focused on winning the trophy,” he said.
Asked if it ever crossed his mind that the tackle might maim the player, Omokaro said: “I don’t care the effect of my tackles what matters to me most is victory for my side at the end of the day. It’s not that I really go out to ruin the career of my opponent, but it’s just that any time I go for a tackle I’m always very hard. I derived a lot of joy in winning because people love to associate with winners and if it demands that I should kill to win I wouldn’t hesitate,” the former international noted.
Stoke City assistant manager, Paul Hart, had revealed to the club’s official site that the Potters coaching crew are happy with Super Eagles midfielder, Peter Etebo’s performances at the ongoing AFCON tournament after reaching the semi-final round of the competition.
Stoke City are tipping the midfielder to start when the Super Eagles face Algeria on Sunday.
Hart admitted it’s hard not havinghim around for the club’s pre-season tour as he is an integral part of the squad.
‘’It’s a double-edged sword really, because we are incredibly proud of him and what he is achieving, but it would be great to have him back. We are so pleased for Peter though, he is a great lad and he will be back as soon as he possibly can. We will most definitely be looking after him and managing him correctly when it is he does come back,’’ Hart said.
Etebo is the only Super Eagles player who has started and gone the distance in all the matches played by Rohr’s men in Egypt.