By Kayode Ogundare in Uyo:
It’s game day! 5pm is the zero-hour when hostilities will kick off in what has become the most important game in Nigerian football in recent memory. African champions Cameroon are already in town, strutting around as if they owned the whole of Uyo and daring the Super Eagles to do their worst.
Going by the cocky confidence with which Cameroun has gone about, rejecting the hotel offered them amongst many infractions, I have put together a list of five reasons why the Lions must fall at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo this evening…
1. Renewal of old rivalry: Apart from the rivalry with Ghana, Nigeria’s rivalry with Cameroon has achieved legendary status and is without peer in our football history.
Unlike the Black Stars however, Cameroon have drawn more blood and tears from Nigeria than any other team in African football even though we have a better head-to-head record against them. At all levels, the Cameroonians take delight in rubbing Nigerian noses in the mud when it mattered most to us and see themselves always on a mission to equal or better any record set by Nigeria.
While the world applauded us for winning Africa’s first Olympic football gold in 1996 in Atlanta, the U23-Lions went ahead in the very next Olympics to defeat Spain in dramatic fashion to win gold and equal our record.
Now that they have brought the rivalry to our doorstep, we MUST beat them today regardless of what happens next week Monday in Yaounde in the second leg.
2. Payback for controversial 2000 and 1988 AFCON final losses: Talking about defeating Nigeria when the stakes are at their highest, nothing best exemplifies this than the fact that of the five AFCON titles that Cameroun have won, three have been at the expense of Nigeria in 1984, 1988 and 2000.
While the 1984 loss in Ivory Coast was attributed to the triumph of experience over youthful exuberance, the other two losses have been enmeshed in controversies that are yet to be settled even unto this day.
One of the most iconic images of the 2000 AFCON final in Lagos is that of Victor Ikpeba holding his head in his hands after his penalty had been disallowed by referee Mourad Daami although television replays showed that the ball clearly crossed the line.
If that was admitted as human error on the part of the referee, how does one explain the 1988 final in Morocco when Henry Nwosu’s headed goal was inexplicably disallowed. 29 years after, Nwosu and indeed Nigerians are still asking referee Idrissa Sarr of Mauritania for the reason why the goal was disallowed. A decisive victory today will help us get closure on that controversial saga.
3. Victory means one step in Russia 2018 World Cup: Like captain Mikel Obi rightly said at Wednesday’s media briefing, the issues at stake are very simple. We want to go to the World Cup. We must beat Cameroon. It’s that simple.
A victory today puts us in the driving seat to Russia 2018 World Cup ahead of Cameroon. If we win and regardless of what happens inYaounde on Monday, Cameroon cannot mathematically catch us provided we beat Zambia in our last home game.
This also automatically eliminates the Chipolopolo as potential obstacles leaving us to contend with Algeria who also must win their four remaining games for them to stand a chance of reaching the World Cup. Do the maths. It’s not complicated.
4. To equal their World Cup Record: There’s no telling the story of the 1990 World Cup without mentioning the mazy run of the Indomitable Lions in Italy when they nearly reached the semi-finals before they were halted by England and the iconic image of Roger Milla dancing makossa has come to define that edition of the mundial.
Even though Senegal equalled that record in 2002, commentators hardly mention the two teams in the same breath when talking about Africa’s achievement at the FIFA World Cup.
After five attempts, our best attempt has been a Round of 16 elimination on three separate occasions so it is high time we try to cross the rubicon to equal and ultimately surpass Cameroon’s quarter-final record. To do that, we must first get to the World Cup in Russia. And to reach Russia, we MUST beat Cameroon today.
5. Bragging Rights over African Champions: The Indomitable Lions won the 2017 African Cup of Nations in Gabon with Nigeria conspicuously missing.
Last time we played against them, we won 3-0 in a friendly but it would be better if we actually beat them in a competitive game to show that they won the title because the Super Eagles were missing.
It definitely will look nice on our CV, won’t it?
So there you have my five reasons. You can add yours. If you can, find your way to the stadium. If you cannot, stay glued to your television set. Either way, get behind the Super Eagles and cheer them to victory in this must-win game.