By Albert Akota
Three –time champions Nigeria and five –time winners Cameroon go toe-to-toe in an Africa Cup of Nations Round of 16 match that could well determine the future of new squads being built by both nations.
Both teams finished runner –up in their respective groups despite being rated to top, and low fire power is a constant variable in both camps with only two goals in each team’s kitty.
Nigeria, winners in 2013 and having reached the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the current AFCON campaign respectively with a match to spare, suffered a nightmarish 0-2 defeat to lowly Madagascar in their final Group B game they were expected to win well without sweat. But Cup holders Cameroon also bombed on bookmakers by drawing blank in their final Group F encounter with the Squirrels of Benin Republic.
Cameroon have had the upper hand against Nigeria in AFCON history, although Nigeria has won 13 of 22 encounters in all with the fierce neighbours at senior level, and humiliated the Indomitable Lions in the race to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
It is also on record that the Lions have not beaten the Super Eagles in regulation time since 27th August 1989, when an under-strength Nigeria side lost 0-1 in Yaounde in an Italia 1990 World Cup qualifier –two weeks after Samuel Okwaraji died in another World Cup qualifier against Angola in Lagos.
In 1984, in an entertaining AFCON final in Abidjan, Cameroon came from one goal down to defeat Nigeria 3-1, exhibiting the quality and experience that had made them unbeaten at the FIFA World Cup in Spain two years earlier.
Four years later, at the same stage in Casablanca, the Lions were less convincing, as Nigeria lost following Mauritanian referee Idrissa Saar’s inexplicable decision to disallow a goal by Henry Nwosu in the first half, and then award a soft penalty to the Lions early in the second half.
Again in the final, in 2000, it was even more controversial. A 2-2 draw in regulation and extra time was followed by a penalty shootout, during which Tunisian referee Mourad Daami controversially ruled out the kick by Victor Ikpeba that television replays later showed to have crossed the line behind goalkeeper Alioum Boukar.
Nigeria got some revenge in 2004, when Jay Jay Okocha spearheaded a comeback in a quarter final tie in Monastir, Tunisia that ended 2-1 in favour of Nigeria, and after waiting 13 years, the Eagles dismantled reigning African champions Cameroon 4-0 in a World Cup qualifier in Uyo before a 1-1 draw in Yaounde days later.
Saturday’s encounter at the 20,000 –capacity Alexandria Stadium will be a fight-to-finish, as both teams are undergoing some sort of restructuring in playing personnel and introspection on recent below-par performances.
Despite lifting a fifth African title in Gabon 30 months ago, Cameroon failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and were less than convincing in qualifying for this tournament.
On their part, Nigeria failed to reach the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, and despite earning a ticket to Egypt with a match to spare, analysts have drawn daggers for Technical Adviser Gernot Rohr on perceived lack of bravery in selection and lack of clear playing pattern of his team.
While Nigeria appears to be seeing the last active days of captain Mikel Obi on the international road, Cameroon have excluded big goal-poacher Vincent Aboubakar from this tournament altogether.
Yet, all things must fall nicely in place for the Super Eagles on Saturday as they seek a place in the tournament quarter finals, with young horses Alex Iwobi, Moses Simon, Samuel Chukwueze, Wilfred Ndidi, Ola Aina, Chidozie Awaziem and even the experienced Odion Ighalo aware they cannot afford to falter at this stage in their AFCON debut.
With Mikel injured and certain to be on the bench, the burden is on Ahmed Musa’s shoulders to rally the troop from the humiliation by Madagascar and launch offensive after offensive that will break down the traditionally –strong Lions rearguard.
While Nigeria’s senior team has not played many games on 6th July in the past, they pipped Tunisia 1-0 in a 1986 FIFA World Cup qualifier in Lagos on 6th July 1985.
Other matches prosecuted in the month of July include a 1982 FIFA World Cup qualifying defeat of Tunisia (2-0) in Lagos on 12th July 1980; a 1994 FIFA World Cup qualifying defeat of Algeria (4-1) in Lagos on 13th July 1993; a 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifying defeat of Sudan (4-0) in Omdurman on 1st July 2001 and; a 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying defeat of Algeria (1-0) in Abuja on 3rd July 2004.