AHMED MUSA, OMERUO’S LONG WALK TO AFCON

AHMED MUSA, OMERUO’S LONG WALK TO AFCON

BY APESIN ADEMOLA

 

Kenneth Omeruo, Ogenyi Onazi, John Obi Mikel, Ahmed Musa. Apart from being Super Eagles players and plying their trade outside Nigeria, what do they have in common?

 

The quartet are the only surviving Super Eagles out of the 23-man squad when Nigeria last participated in the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2013.

 

Five years ago at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, the Super Eagles added to their two previous titles in this continental tournament with Sunday Mba firing from a distance to claim victory over Burkina Faso in the final. Since then, Nigeria have fallen short in AFCON qualifying series, missing out of Equatorial Guinea 2015 and Gabon 2017.

 

When the qualifying series for Cameroon 2019 began, it looked like the same ailment had not been cured. June 10, 2017, Matchday 1 for Nigeria in the ongoing group stage, will remain indelible in the memory of Nigerian fans for the wrong reason. With South Africa as the first opposition in a six-game round robing, bookmakers had given the match to the Super Eagles. After all, the Bafana Bafana are what street folks would describe as “customer dada ni!” when they mean to exhibit contempt for their rivals.

 

In 12 matches before then with South Africa, Nigeria had only lost once – a friendly in Johannesburg – and won seven other times, including three victories in South African soil. But Tokelo Anthony Rantie and Percy Tau had other ideas in Uyo. In the 54th and 81st minutes respectively, they struck and silenced the jam-packaged Godswill Akpabio International Stadium. Those two unreplied goals brought the Super Eagles down to earth.

 

Since then, Nigeria had been to the FIFA World Cup in Russia and had an outing that the fans seem to measure only by the defeat to Argentina, which marked the team’s exit in the second round. The spirit was however lifted on September 8 at Stade Linité, Victoria in the Super Eagles’ last match when Nigeria smashed Seychelles 3-0 to revive their hope of being among the finalists in Cameroon next year.

 

Back to the same ground in Uyo this Saturday, the Super Eagles can’t afford to have a repeat of the South African nightmare. Like the Bafana Bafana, the north African side have never measured up to Nigeria. Three times both teams had met and two times Nigeria had prevailed. As recent as January 19, the home-based Super Eagles pipped Libya 1-0 at Stade Ibn Batouta, Tangiers, Morocco in the group stage of this year’s African Nations Championship. Before then, Nigeria won a friendly in Tripoli by the same margin on August 17, 2005. Libya’s only bragging right came in the LG Cup way back on October 11, 2004 when they won 2-1.

 

Gernot Rohr assumed responsibility as Nigeria’s coach in August 2016 and the Super Eagles have played 30 matches in all competitions and friendlies. Rohr’s statistics read 18-6-6. Nigerians expect no less than the figures reading 19-6-6 when the final whistle goes off before 6pm in Uyo.

 

Libya lead Group E having won their opening fixture 5-1 against Seychelles and followed that with a barren result in South Africa, the team that share same points with the north Africans.

 

If Nigeria beat Libya and Bafana Bafana fail to take advantage of the freelancers from Seychelles, they will take control of the group ahead of the reverse fixture with Libya in Algeria on Tuesday.

 

In Group A, Senegal and Madagascar share the limelight but are chased by Equatorial Guinea who are a point behind. Africa’s second highest rated side, Senegal will be expected to overwhelm the group’s minnows with Sadio Mane leading the assault.

 

Only one slot is available in Group B where Cameroon feature as the Indomitable Lions will be in the finals by virtue of their hosting Africa next year. Morocco go into their game with Comoros Islands chasing their second victory to firm up their position as runners-up to Cameroon. Both the Atlas Lions and Malawi are on three points, but the latter have played a match more.

 

Zimbabwe lead Group G on superior goal difference over DR Congo, their hosts in this evening’s match, while Congo Republic are also level on points but have completed three matches as against two by Zimbabwe and  DR Congo.

 

Burkina Faso will make it a three-horse race in Group I if they send Botswana back home empty-handed with Angola and Mauritania having six points each following their head-to-head on Friday.

 

In Group J, Tunisia have a perfect result but the Egyptians are coming having recovered from their defeat by the former in the opening match of the group stage. The Carthage Eagles, Africa’s current No 1 team by FIFA ranking, will stay on top if they don’t shock the football world by losing to Niger Republic right there in Tunisia.

 

Mozambique have won one and drawn the other match to top Group K. A win over Namibia will set them apart from Zambia who have played their own third match of the series.

 

In Group L, Uganda must avoid defeat to visiting Lesotho to topple Cape Verde at the summit.

 

Saturday’s fixtures…

 

Group E: Nigeria v Libya (4pm)

South Africa v Seychelles (2pm)

 

Group A: Equatorial Guinea v Madagascar (4pm)

Senegal v Sudan (8pm)

 

Group B: Morocco v Comoros Islands (7pm)

 

Group G: DR Congo v Zimbabwe (6:30pm)

 

Group I: Burkina Faso v Botswana (7pm)

 

Group J: Tunisia v Niger Republic (7:15pm)

 

Group K: Mozambique v Namibia (4pm)

 

Group L: Uganda v Lesotho (2pm)

 

 

 

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