When Nigeria and Cameroon file out today at the Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny Stadium, Abidjan, for the round of 16 2023 Africa Cup of Nations encounter, one thing that will surely come to the minds of the two teams is the 1984 final. For it was at the same venue of today’s encounter that the Indomitable Lions won the first of their five AFCON titles at the expense of the Super Eagles. In fact, three of the titles were won at the expense of Nigeria, the fourth being at the home ground of the three-time African champions. After, a lacklustre start in their opening game, the Jose Peseiro’s men ended Group A with seven points after a lone goal defeat of host Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea Bissau respectively to give soccer crazy Nigerians a renewed hope. The hope will however be put to test to as Nigeria and Cameroon reenact old rivalry writes Kunle Adewale
Nigeria and Cameroon will renew Africa Cup of Nations hostilities in the round of 16 at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium today.
The Super Eagles finished second behind Equatorial Guinea in Group A, while Rigobert Song’s men relied on a late comeback against The Gambia to progress behind a perfect Senegal in Group C.
Nigeria were turgid in their final game of Group A against winless Guinea-Bissau, but Jose Peseiro’s men secured maximum points to finish with seven points and qualify in second position.
The Super Eagles have struggled for goals at AFCON 2023, netting three times despite heading into the knockout stage as the competition’s top creators.
Victor Osimhen’s finishing has been suboptimal in the games against Equatorial Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau, and the African Footballer of the Year’s expected goals turnout has been a disappointment.
Nigeria need their talisman back on form as the competition enters the crucial stage, as relying on their defensive performance may prove fatal if chances cannot be converted at the other end.
This is not lost on Peseiro, who warned his side to improve their execution in the knockout rounds to avoid early elimination, and it remains to be seen if anything changes against the Indomitable Lions today.
Both sides have a long-standing rivalry at the Cup of Nations, with Cameroon’s 2000 success in the decider in Lagos at the turn of the millennium still hurtful to many Super Eagles supporters.
The 2017 champions have lost their stranglehold in this conflict, with the Indomitable Lions winless in the last three competitive meetings between the nations, including a 3-2 loss at the 2019 finals in Egypt.
It remains to be seen if Song’s side turns the tide this weekend, but the Lions must improve on group-stage performances to outdo a Super Eagles side that have given little away defensively.
Cameroon’s reliance on crossing was evident throughout their games with Guinea, Senegal and The Gambia, with their first game against a short-handed Syli National underscoring that approach.
Whether that works against a side displaying greater coherence is questionable, but Song’s side are unlikely to change tack against their age-old rivals today.
Unlike Nigeria, who have been stationed in Abidjan for all three of their group matches, Cameroon traversed stadiums during the group stage.
Two games were played at the Charles Konan Banny Stadium in Yamoussoukro, while their final match took place at the Stade de la Paix in Bouaké.
For their encounter with Nigeria, the Indomitable Lions moved from their base in Bouaké to the capital, Abidjan, covering a distance of approximately 343.2 km.
Following their triumphant performance against Gambia, the Indomitable Lions resumed training in Bouaké on Wednesday.
Departing early on Thursday morning, they embarked on a flight to Abidjan on the same day, ensuring ample time for preparation.
In a positive turn of events for Cameroon, head coach Rigobert Song has received encouraging news on the injury front.
Star forward Vincent Aboubakar and Clinton Njie, both previously sidelined, have made a full recovery. Aboubakar, injured during training in Yamoussoukro just days before the tournament, is back after a 10-day absence.
A pivotal player in Cameroon’s 2017 AFCON victory and the top scorer in the 2021 edition, Aboubakar’s return adds firepower to the team as they brace for the crucial clash against Nigeria.
Between the two continental giants, Nigeria and Cameroon have eight Africa Cup of Nations titles between them, with the Eagles champions of Africa in 1980, 1994 and 2013, while the Lions triumphed in 1984, 1988, 2000, 2002 and 2017.
Incidentally, Nigeria was the fall-guy for Cameroon’s first three wins, with the first of those coming right inside the same Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny in Abidjan that will host tonight’s Round of 16 duel. The Lions won 3-1, despite Nigeria going in front after 10 minutes through Mudashiru Babatunde Lawal.
In 1988, Nigeria felt cheated when Mauritanian referee Idrissa Sarr disallowed a goal by Henry Nwosu in the first half at the Stade Mohamed V in Casablanca. Emmanuel Kunde scored from the spot in the second period to win it for the Lions.
In 2000, as co-hosts, Nigeria fell behind 0-2 in a memorable final with goals from Samuel Eto’o and Patrick Mboma, before Raphael Chukwu Ndukwe and Jay-Jay Okocha restored parity. The Lions went ahead to win 4-3 after a penalty shootout at the National Stadium, Lagos.
The Lions successfully defended their title in Mali two years later, defeating Senegal on penalties inside Bamako’s Stade March 26, and then came from behind to edge Egypt 2-1 in Libreville in 2017.
However, Nigerians will remember with a song in their heart the Super Eagles’ triumph over the Lions in the quarter-finals in Tunisia in 2004, and in the Round of 16 in Egypt in 2019, as well as the 4-0 win over the neighbours in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match in Uyo in 2017 that paved the way for Nigeria’s qualification for Russia 2018.
In Alexandria in 2019, also in the Round of 16, eventual tournament top scorer Odion Ighalo scored two of the goals in a 3-2 win, with midfielder Alex Iwobi netting the winner.
Interestingly, the Super Eagles have vowed to recreate their 2019 AFCON Round of 16 defeat of Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in Alexandria, when both teams clash in Abidjan today at the same stage in the ongoing 34th edition of the competition.
“That game was a tough duel and brought out the best in us, especially when we went 1-2 down despite scoring first. In the dressing room, we told ourselves that we could not allow that to happen. We played for one another and we were happy to win at the end.
“Of course, we know the match on Saturday will be even tougher. The Cameroonians will be determined not to lose again, but we will give our very best and go for a win. We can do it again. Our aspiration is to win the trophy and nothing has changed that,” Team’s Captain, Ahmed Musa said yesterday.
NFF Technical Director Austin Eguavoen, who was on-field captain for the squad that won in Tunisia in 1994, said: “Cameroon will always come with determination and grit. We have to be even more prepared for them and deploy the greater flair and flexibility that we have.”
Coach José Peseiro may opt for Ola Aina, Chidozie Awaziem, William Ekong, Calvin Bassey and Zaidu Sanusi at the rear, and there is the possibility of Kelechi Iheanacho playing some part with Victor Osimhen at the fore.
The match will be aired from 9pm Nigerian time on StarTimes SportsPremium Channel 252 and 246, as well as StarTimes-On app.