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‘Group Of Death’ Lives Up To Billing

‘Group Of Death’ Lives Up To Billing

Soccer Talk By Mumini Alao:

WHEN the draw for the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers was made last year, Africa’s Group ‘B’ featuring Algeria, Cameroun, Nigeria and Zambia was dubbed as the “Group of Death.” Well, it is living up to its name 100 per cent.

After four rounds of matches, the World Cup dreams of relative “favourites” Algeria (1point) and Cameroun (2 points) are dead and buried, leaving Nigeria (10 points) to slug it out for the sole qualifying ticket with the group dark horses Zambia (7 points). Just when the Super Eagles thought they had done the most difficult part by eliminating their eternal rivals Indomitable Lions (4-0, 1-1) in last weekend’s double header, the Chipolopolo have emerged as a real threat by also dumping out the Desert Foxes (3-1, 1-0).

The fifth round game between Nigeria and Zambia on 7 October in Uyo has assumed great significance. It will be the next “Game of Our Lives.” A win for the Eagles seals their ticket to Russia. A draw or defeat extends the tussle to the wire in November when Zambia host Cameroun and Nigeria visit Algeria. Surely, the Eagles must avoid the tension that that would bring upon them. They must close out the race when the Zambians come to Uyo in 7 October, grab the win and move to an unassailable 13 points before the final round of games.

Regular readers of this column would recall that 13 points was the qualifying target that I set for the Eagles when the draw was made last year. I projected that we must win nine points from our first three games and 13 overall by match day 5 so that the final game in Algeria would be inconsequential.

After four rounds of games, nothing has changed and the Eagles can still reach the target as projected. My only surprise is that it is Zambia, not Algeria and Cameroun, who are giving us a run for the ticket to Russia.

Humiliation For Cameroun

Zambia are the next focus of our attention, but there’s no way I’m going to pass up the opportunity to rub in the Eagles humiliation of Cameroun last weekend in Uyo and Yaounde. The Indomitable Lions have brought so much grief on Nigeria football fans that whenever we exert some measure of revenge, we must celebrate it. Someone actually reminded me on social media about my resolve to celebrate even if it was Nigeria cockroaches beating Cameroun cockroaches in a race!

I found the Eagles 4-0 win in Uyo particularly satisfying. Also, I extremely enjoyed the various media descriptions of what the Eagles did to the Lions: Humiliate, annihilate, trounce, massacre, tame, disgrace, destroy!

On a more serious note, my reading of the game is that the Cameroun coach Hugo Broos was arrogant and over-confident in his approach probably because of their status as current African champions. Being the away team, I thought they would have started on a cautious note, frustrate Nigeria with some defensive tactics, then take us out on the counter as we got desperate in search of a goal. Broos did exactly the opposite and got punished for it. Right from the kick-off, the Lions went straight into attack and the Eagles had to ride an early storm. But once the storm subsided, it was the Eagles that repeatedly tore apart a disjointed Cameroun defence with some incisive play by Mikel Obi, Odion Ighalo and Victor Moses who all scored before substitute Kelechi Iheanacho added the gloss.

In the return leg in Yaounde, Broos had learned his lesson the hard way and the Lions were more cautious at the start even though they were now playing at home. Man-for-man, the Eagles had better quality all over the pitch and should have been more than one goal (scored by Moses Simon) ahead before Cameroun managed a late equalizer from the penalty spot to secure the 1-1 draw.

Over the two legs, my man of the tie was centre back Leon Balogun who marshaled the Eagles defence excellently. Captain Mikel Obi was awesome in midfield and Victor Moses was unplayable on the flanks. Apart from Ighalo’s physical presence which perpetually unsettled the Cameroun defence, he also showed some great skills that I never knew he possessed. In goal for Nigeria, home boy Ikechukwu Ezenwa made the error that resulted in the second leg penalty for Cameroun, but overall, the home boy responded well to being blooded in such a crucial tie when Nigeria looked like having a goalkeeping crisis.

Finally, I doff my hat for Eagles coach Gernot Rohr whose team selection and tactics completely overwhelmed the Lions. With the benefit of hindsight, the nine high profile games that Cameroun played (six at the 2017 AFCON which they won and three at the 2017 Confederations Cup) which we thought had prepared them better than the Eagles had only served to expose their weaknesses to Rohr, the consummate tactician.

I was on Twitter throughout the live coverage of the Nigeria–Cameroun double header. I couldn’t resist giving the “Indomitable Lions” a new name: “Domitable Pussycats!”

Zambia Will Be Dangerous

ONE of my followers on Twitter suggested after our second leg game against Cameroun that the Russia 2018 ticket, though so close, was “not yet Uhuru” for Nigeria. After watching Zambia complete a double over Algeria (3-1 at home and 1-0 away), I cannot agree more. With absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain, the Zambians will be very dangerous customers when they visit Nigeria in next fixture on 7 October.

Since the Eagles beat them 2-1 in Ndola on match day one, the Zambians have been a changed team. Coach Wedson Nyirenda has promoted several players from their youth team and they’ve not lost another game since then. They are skilful and athletic, full of running and have a big heart which they demonstrated in getting a third goal against Algeria in the first leg even when playing with 10 men against 11.

Zambia also have a history of close rivalry with Nigeria. In 17 confrontations between both countries at senior level since 1973, Nigeria have won seven, drawn five and lost five. The biggest contest was the 1994 AFCON final in Tunisia where a relatively new Zambian team, assembled after most of the original team died in a plane crash, stood up gamely to our Golden Generation Super Eagles before narrowly succumbing 2-1.

Evidently, Zambia are supremely capable of giving Nigeria another good fight in Uyo on 7 October. Unlike Cameroun who adopted an arrogant tactical approach and got severely punished for it, I expect Zambia to come with a game plan to frustrate Nigeria with some solid defending. They will sit back and look to catch us with quick counter attacks. If they can’t get a win, they will target a draw which will drag the contest for the World Cup ticket to the final day when they would hope to have a better chance at home to Cameroun while Nigeria goes on a tricky road trip to Algeria. It’s up to the Super Eagles to destroy Zambia’s permutations by simply beating them in Uyo. A couple of early goals like we scored in Ndola in the first leg will ease the tension and set us on the way to Russia.

Considering all the hype, our two-legged tie against Cameroun turned out to be an anti-climax of sort, but I suspect that Zambia will be a true test for the Eagles. It’s just as well because it means we cannot afford to be complacent. Thankfully, none of our key players is suspended for that game. Barring any injuries at their club sides and with Gernot Rohr again conjuring the right tactics, Nigeria will win, in sha Allah.

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  • Offiongjamesusoro 4 years ago

    They will be hard to beat, but we are going to thrash them and pick our ticket in Uyo.

  • okonye marquis 4 years ago

    Oga check your permutations well. A draw in Uyo will see us through on a better head-to-head @ 11 points not minding if zambia wins at home to tie nigeria @ 11 points and nigeria loses away in their respective last matches.

  • Kenny 4 years ago

    I have been waiting for your analysis on the match, with the determination that our player has been showing we should beat Zambia, we dont want to experience again the tension soaked match that we had in Algiers in 1993 on the final day of US 94 qualifier. I know Mr Mumini will remember that match very well.

    • Mumini Alao 4 years ago

      Yes, I remember the 1993 episode because I was in Algeria with the Super Eagles.. I hope we don’t have a repeat of that this year. The tension was suffocating.

  • Adeniyi Giyath Oyewale 4 years ago

    I love this piece of writing and kodos to the writer. keep updating us the more. I love this website.

  • PapaFem 4 years ago

    Without sounding immodest, I don’t see Zambia escaping defeat in Uyo. I watched their two matches against Algeria. It’s evidently clear that Chipolopolo played a team very low in confidence. I was surprised at Algeria’s lethargy in those two matches. They looked so disorganized. As far as I’m concerned, their weakest link was that defence which the Zambians exploited greatly. The goal they conceeded in Constantine was very similar to Moses’first goal against them in Nigeria – defenders ramming into one another. Zambian won’t have that luxury against Balogun-Ekong combo. Chipolopolo’s defence, though young and agile, doesn’t have the experience and talent to neutralize the attacking threats of Mikel, Ighalo, Moses, Iwobi, Iheanacho and Simeon. Nigeria will create a lot of chances with those players. They just have to take those chances and Zambia will be history. It’s that simple. My prediction: Nigeria 3 Zambia 0.

  • Qasim Adetokunbo ELEGBEDE 4 years ago

    Great analysis as usual sir. But I’m wondering why nobody has given us the qualification rules. If it’s head-to-head like 2006 qualifiers, a draw would suffice against Zambia, though without sounding pompous, I think we should beat Zambia in Uyo and settle qualification once and of all. However, I fear for Africa at next year’s Mundial – bar Nigeria and probably Ghana who are ironically struggling in their group, the quality of our teams is appalling.
    Regards to the family sir.

  • Taiwo Evidence Ige 4 years ago

    Why won’t a draw be enough for Nigeria to qualify irrespective of what happens on MatchDay 6? Won’t dat give us a better head-to-head chance over Zambia even if we both end on same points? How did Angola qualify 4 Germany 2006 ahead of us despite finishing on same points (21) with Nigeria but with an inferior GD (+6 against +14)? Has FIFA changed the rule AGAIN? Well, I hope and pray we win on Oct 7 sha!

  • Abdulrazak 4 years ago

    I have watched that Algeria vs Zambia match over and over again just like Rohr would have. The Zambian goal was nothing special. Defensive mix up by the Algerian defense and bang. The Zambian team is good no doubt but i am confident that we shall win in Uyo come October 7, Insha Allah.

  • Bamba Stanley 4 years ago

    Am Zambian and I want the best team to win and Nigeria has the right material to win against Zambia and represent Africa in Russia but Nigeria just like countries like Ivory Coast have been a constant disappoint at world stage,African teams don’t impress at the world cup.. I would rather have Zambia remain than go to the world cup and become tourists in Russia like Nigeria,they will go to Russia just to make up the numbers not to win..we need to change our mentality.When teams like Nigeria go to the world cup,which am looking forward to as they have good and well exposed and talented squad, they are always passengers just adding up numbers and play three games and rewarded with elimination

    • Abdulmumin andah 4 years ago

      I pray that no iota of injury to our players prior to the Zambian match..
      Most especially the likes of Victor moses, mikel OBI, leon balogun, ekong, ighalo and more so that Zambian will know what’s up.
      Pls, my namesake Abdulmumin tell Rohr to watch and invite fit-again Joel OBI.
      I want a situation that anytime mikel is tired and removed he (joel) will be the one to take the mantle of leadership in the midfield…
      That guy they ball when he is fit!

      • PapaFem 4 years ago

        Great suggestion. My brother. He’s been on fire of late.

  • Ayodele Oloyede 4 years ago

    Our biggest challenge going into the Zambian game I suspect will be OVER CONFIDENCE as our players might still be basking in the euphoria of the Cameroonian massacre. Only the Super Eagles can beat the Super Eagles! Let’s respect the Zambians please! A word is enough for the wise!

  • Azuka Cyril Ossai 4 years ago

    Really missed soccertalk,but I am really happy that your analysis is still top notch as always.The eagles will fly in Russia…welldone sir

  • Nigeria will win Zambia and as usual moses will be too hot to handle. Algeria
    Played poorly and deserved to be beaten at home and if we need a win in Algiers to qualify we will get it.

  • Onyeagoro Johnson Chima 4 years ago

    Please, could Oga Mumini Alao, explain how Angola overcame Nigeria during Germany 2006 world cup qualifiers on head to head?

  • Who say Zambia will be dangerous? @Mumini Alao I want you to really check your mind well and answer this question: do you sincerely think Zambia can beat Cameroon in Lusaka considering what they played with us in Yaoundé? My answer is that the best Zambia will get when Cameroon visit them is a draw. My gut tells me Cameroon will defeat Zambia in Lusaka. How on earth should any Nigerian even think of a draw in the vs Zambia match. We should be talking about how many goals will be scored and who would be the likely scorers. It’s annoying indeed. We will give them more than the Cameroon treatment. Cameroon-lize them.