The Super Eagles could become the first African team to book a ticket to the 2018 FIFA World Cup holding in Russia. But between them and that destination is a crucial 90 minute game against the Chipolopolo of Zambia, who presently occupy the second position in Group B of the World Cup qualifying series with 7 points, 3 behind the Eagles.
Nigeria national football team players pose prior to the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying football match between Nigeria and Cameroon at Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, southern Nigeria, on September 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO
No doubt, the 3-point gap which, to the Zambians, looks surmountable, makes this weekend’s encounter between the two pace-setters in the group a make or mar encounter. The Eagles need an outright win over the visitors to seal their ticket to Russia while a draw would raise the adrenaline of the Zambians whose hope of a possible qualification will grow in bounds. A positive outcome for the Zambians would give them an incentive when they host a demoralised Cameroon side in the final group game next month.
The stage for this all-important match, which will go a long way in determining the fates of the two combatants is the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital. The magnificent arena will be hosting the most important international match in her short but activity ladden history as the last time Nigeria qualified for the Brazil 2014 World Cup it was the U. J. Esuene Stadium in Calabar that presented the stage. The Super Eagles need all the luck to equal that feat today.
Eagles camp sources indicate that the team members are focused as history beckons. From team captain to the curator all have a profound appreciation of the importance of the match and backed by their resolve to be in Russia, which is the biggest motivation. It was easy to identify that in Odion Ighalo, one of Eagles most experienced players who told this reporter in Uyo after the Cameroon massacre, why he puts in his optimum best each time he is asked to play for Nigeria, particularly in the World Cup qualifiers. “As for me, I don’t know of the other players, I have never been to a senior World Cup before; that’s why I put in 110 per cent each time I am on the field. I want to be in Russia and I won’t rest until we secure the World Cup ticket.”
Ighalo’s submission was reflective of his colleague’s mood. They all want to go to the World Cup and Zambia cannot be a hinderance. Captain John Obi Mikel said the team cannot toy with the chance of reaching the World Cup finalas the Eagles still have a point to prove to the world.”We want to go and have a better World Cup,” he told Sport radio, Brila fm in a recent interview, adding, “at the last World Cup in Brazil we did not do very well and we want to be in Russia and improve on our outing in Brazil.”
Coach Gernot Rohr has a lot in his arsenal to prosecute this game. Although he has pledged to keep faith with the squad that dealt a life-telling blow on the once-Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in Uyo last month, Rhor is still seeking ways to fortify the sometimes suspect Eagles rear. As a result he is likely to introduce Ola Aina, the Chelsea loanee who has adapted so fast to Eagles playing pattern and integrated easily with the rest of the squad. He has been a hit for his club, Hull City. The likes of Victor Moses and Moses Simon who earned a lot of applause from coach Rohr will keep their places, just as Odion Ighalo, Captain Mikel Obi, the Oyinbo wall of Troost Ekong and Leon Balogun will retain their shirts.
Goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Oghenekaro Etebor, Shehu Musa, Ogenyi Onazi, Elderson Echejile could all start against the Chipolopolo.