Super Eagles
Super Eagles

FOR NIGERIA’S Super Eagles and the Fennecs of Algeria, also known as Desert Foxes, the zero hour for their Russia 2018, African zone group B World Cup clash is virtually here. Beginning from 4pm tomorrow at the ultra-modern Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo, the capital city of Akwa Ibom State in the South-South geopolitical zone of the country, Nigeria’s Super Eagles, who are the group’s leaders, will take an arduous step to consolidate their leadership position of the group dubbed by analysts as the “Group of death” against one of their arch rivals in the continent’s football, Algeria, whose Russia 2018 World Cup campaign was jolted by the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon last month at Stade Mustapha in Tchake. The Lions pulled a 1-1 draw with the Fennecs on October 9. Earlier on that day in Ndola, Zambia, the Eagles put up a reassuring display when they prevailed against their hosts, the Chipolopolo 2-1, to steer them on top of the group with three points. The Algerians are angry over their result, considering their position as the number one rated side in their group, and currently Africa’s third best on FIFA’s monthly rankings. For them not to be consigned into the background of the Russia World Cup qualifier, the North Africans will require a victory tomorrow in Uyo against their hosts to bring them to relevance in the World Cup campaign. On the other hand, a victory for the Nigerians will put them in a pole position in their quest to earn the sole ticket for the group. Although beating Algeria will be a tough task, it will also not be an impossible assignment. Apart from having one of their best preparations so far in recent time, the Eagles’ confidence buoyed within the week when Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visited them at their training at the National Stadium in Abuja on Tuesday, before they flew to Uyo for the titanic battle. Osibanjo, who was accompanied by the Sports Minister, Solomon Dalong, also urged the national team to beat Algeria to consolidate their leadership of their qualifying group. According to the country’s deputy leader: “The president is very much aware of the finances of the NFF and that was why the government intervened for the away game in Zambia.”
Osinbajo added: “You should be patriotic and go out to beat Algeria on Saturday. We will support you to qualify for the 2018 World Cup Finals.” The vice president’s optimism of success over the country’s rivals is shared by the team’s coach and some of his players. Coach Gernot Rohr, Eagles’ Franco-German tactician, said his side would not settle for anything less than victory in what promises to be a titanic clash. According to the coach, “It is very important that we make the three points against Africa’s top team, Algeria.” Speaking in a similar vein, John Ogu, who plies his soccer trade in Israel, said the Eagles would go all out for victory against their rivals from North Africa. The Napoel Beer Sheva midfielder who was voted the Best Foreign Player in the Israeli league, said “we are all working hard to win on Saturday. We are ready.” Algeria on their side are not taking chances. Mohamed Raouraoua, the president of the country’s football federation, has told his boys to go for victory in Uyo at all cost. According to him, “You have a duty to come back with a positive result from the match against Nigeria. It is mandatory. We must win there [Nigeria].” All said and done, the two sides were in the 1980s and the 2000s dominant forces in African football. And they still command the respect of many in the continent’s football. They were the only two sides that made it to the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup Finals in Brazil. Beyond their clashes in World Cup qualifiers, Nigeria and Algeria have battled 17 times in all competitions. Honours are evenly shared at seven wins each and four drawn games. Nigeria’s biggest win over Algeria was the 5-2 recorded in a 2006 World Cup qualifiers in Oran. But if the contests of the two teams are narrowed to World Cup qualifiers, Nigeria has the edge with three victories and a drawn game in six outings. The Super Eagles achieved an enviable but eventually useless double, beating the Algerians home and away on 6-2 aggregate but lost the ticket to Germany 2006 to Angola. The Nigerians have not lost to the North Africans in the last 35 years in a World Cup qualifier. Apart from the October 10 1981 0-2 loss to the North Africans at the National Stadium in Surulere, Lagos, the Nigerians have been taking their pound of flesh on the North Africans. The star studded Nigeria’s 1994 World Cup squad of the golden generation of players like Rashidi Yekini, Emmanuel Amunike, Samson Siasia, Uche Okechukwu, Daniel Amokachi, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, etc. defeated Algeria 4-1 in Lagos on July 3, 1994 , before proceeding to Algiers to tie 1-1 with their hosts, enabling them to earn the ticket for their first World Cup final appearance. On July 3, 2002, in one of the qualifying matches for 2006 Germany World Cup finals, Nigeria prevailed over the North Africans 1-0 at home while the Eagles went on to beat them in Constantine 2-5. Their predecessors like Kelechi Iheanacho, John Mikel Obi, Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses, Onazi Ogenyi look set to make history repeat itself. But the Nigerians have to be wary of the Algerians’ main hit man, Islam Slimani, their leading goal scorer with 23 international goals in his 44 caps for his nation. The Leicester forward is the linchpin of his side’s attack. They have players of quality like Captain Rais M’bolhi, Carl Medjani, with 52 caps, Fouzi Ghoulam, Riyad Mahrez and several others. Though a lot is at stake, the game in Uyo promises to be quite thrilling, and possibly explosive. The full list of the 24 players for the Uyo match Goalkeepers: Carl Ikeme (Wolverhampton Wanderers, England); IkechukwuEzenwa (FC IfeanyiUbah); Dele Alampasu (FC Cesarense, Portugal) Defenders: Leon Balogun (FSV Mainz 05, Germany); William Paul Ekong (Haugesund FC, Norway); Kenneth Omeruo (Alanyaspor FC, Turkey); Uche Henry Agbo (Granada FC, Spain); Tyrone Ebuehi (ADO Den Haag, The Netherlands); Abdullahi Shehu (Anorthosis Famagusta, Cyprus); Musa Muhammed (Istanbul Basaksehir, Turkey); EldersonEchiejile (Standard Liege, Belgium), Kingsley Madu (SV ZulteWaregem, Belgium) Midfielders: Mikel John Obi (Chelsea FC, England); OgenyiOnazi (Trabzonspor FC, Turkey); Wilfred Ndidi (KRC Genk, Belgium); OghenekaroEtebo (CD Feirense, Portugal); John Ogu (Hapoel Be’erSheva, Israel) Forwards: Ahmed Musa (Leicester City, England); Kelechi Iheanacho (Manchester City, England); Moses Simon (KAA Gent, Belgium); Victor Moses

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