By Sulaiman Alao:
The Super Eagles (the standard and the home-based squad) in recent times are doing Nigeria proud giving soccer loving fans good cause to cheer by beating their traditional rivals and neighbours in great fashion.
First, it was the once-dreaded Indomitable Lions of Cameroon that were at the receiving end of a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Super Eagles in a double header 2018 World Cup qualifiers. The Super Eagles tamed the Lions and turned the supposedly ferocious beasts into ‘Pussycats’ following a 4-0 trouncing in Uyo. At the end of that encounter, the battered Lions could no longer roar as the only sound they could muster from their toothless jaws were just ‘meows’ of subdued pussycats. The Eagles then went on to re-establish their new-found dominance by also forcing Cameroon to a 1-1 draw in the return leg in Yaounde which effectively killed all hopes of Cameroon going to Russia next year. Considering the fact that Cameroon are currently the African champions and have been a thorn in Nigeria’s flesh for several decades, it was sweet victory indeed.
Second and by no means our lesser rivals are the Black Stars of Ghana. Taking a cue from what the regular Super Eagles did to Cameroon, the home-based Eagles also put smiles on the faces of Nigerian fans by beating the Ghanaians 2-0 right in front of their home fans in the on-going WAFU Cup. No one saw it coming especially with the Eagles having struggled to record scoreless draws in their previous two games against Guinea and Mali. The Super Eagles indeed had their backs against the wall in the last group game against the host Black Stars side that had taken the maximum six points from the same opponents. But the Eagles stunned the Ghanaians and their loudmouthed fans who love to refer to the Nigerian team as the ‘Super Chickens’ by plucking down the Stars to book a semi-final ticket in style. That too was indeed a sweet victory.
Now, Zambia is the team standing in the way of the Super Eagles towards re-establishing Nigeria as the top football powerhouse in the West African region. Despite the well known fact that the Zambians are not in the same category with Cameroon and Ghana in terms of football rivalry with Nigeria, the Chipolopolo see themselves as the team to beat the Eagles in the race to Russia 2018 against all odds. Are the Chipolopolo a real threat to Eagles flight to Russia 2018?
At the start of the qualifiers in the African series, Nigeria, alongside Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia were in Group B rightly tagged the group of death. Zambia were no doubt the dark horses as the only team in the group that is yet to feature in any World Cup. The Indomitable Lions and the Desert Foxes posed the greatest threats to the Super Eagles. However, after 4 rounds of matches, Nigeria found herself atop the group table with 10 points while current African Champions Cameroon (3 points) and Algeria (1 point) have already been eliminated leaving ‘minnows’ Zambia with 7 points now as the real contender with Nigeria for the sole ticket in the group. Now, and with just 2 rounds of matches to go, is the Zambian threat real?
The Chipolopolo started their World Cup qualification campaign badly losing 2-1 at home against Nigeria then followed it up with a 1-1 draw away against Cameroon. But the massive six points haul against Algeria has seen the Chipolopolo bounce back to reckoning to emerge as a possible threat to the Super Eagles. A 3-1 spanking of the Desert Foxes in Ndola was followed by a 1-0 win in Algiers was indeed an impressive performance from a team that picked just one point in their first two games. Nigeria on the other hand started the campaign much better, garnering maximum points against Zambia and Algeria in their first two games. The Super Eagles then picked a healthy four points in the double-header against perennial rivals Cameroon.
As things stand, both Nigeria and Zambia are teams on the ascendancy and both having tasted away victories will be fired up for next game which could be the decider for both teams. However, the odds are clearly in favour of the Super Eagles who boast a three-point lead, have beaten the Zambians in the first leg in Ndola and will also be playing the return fixture in front of their home fans in Uyo next month. The only thing going for the Zambians will be their new-found form and the element of surprise occasioned by the recent overhauling of the squad. The Chipolopolo will also be spoiling for revenge knowing an outright win or draw in Uyo will keep them in the contention for the sole Group B ticket until the last day of the qualifying series. Yet, Nigeria has her fate firmly in her hands and will do well to just win in Uyo next month.
Beating Zambia next month will achieve two things. It will guarantee the Super Eagles flight to Russia next year and also re-assert Nigeria as the dominant football powerhouse in West Africa. And how sweet that would be?