BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Super Eagles of Nigeria’s encounter this Friday with Algeria may just hold greater importance than a mere formality fixture it paints. With qualification for the Russia 2018 World Cup ticket already secured, the team plays for pride and to maintain records.
It has been 4,891 days since Nigeria last lost a World Cup qualifying match. Avoiding a defeat this Friday will stretch the record by over 700 days when the qualifiers for Qatar 2022 will commence.
Not only that, the Super Eagles would have extended their record World Cup qualify unbeaten streak to 35 matches.
In a match that captain of the team, Mikel Obi will hit a milestone 80 international matches, a win, or worse still, avoiding a defeat will not only once again in three consecutive World Cup qualification series give Nigeria a clean sheet, a tradition of avoiding a defeat in Nigeria’s captain’s 80th match will be maintained.
Only three other players attained the 80-match mark. They are the late Muda Lawal, Joseph Yobo and Vincent Enyeama, all at one time or the other, captains of Nigeria’s teams.
Muda Lawal ended his international career after 86 matches. His 80th match was a friendly match with Cote d’Ivoire on June 16, 1985. Nigeria pulled a goalless draw.
The next player to hit the 80-match mark was Joseph Yobo when Nigeria faced Madagascar in Antananarivo in an Africa Cup of Nations’ duel on September 3, 2011. Nigeria not only won the match 2-0, Joseph Yobo marked his 80th match with the opening goal of the game.
Next was Vincent Enyeama whose 80th cap was also an away match. A World Cup qualifying match in Nairobi in which he kept a clean sheet and Nigeria won the June 5, 2013 encounter 1-0.
Will Mikel’s 80th cap also be marked on a sweet note for Nigeria? The 100th cap matches had not been that sweet.
It was on the day that Yobo clocked 100th match that Nigeria crashed out of the World Cup just as Enyeama’s 100th cap celebration was spoilt in front of home crowd in Uyo when Uganda shocked Nigeria 0-1.