By Boluwatife Ezekiel Olaleye
Not even Algeria with their star-studded squad could stop Nigeria from ensuring three straight victories which puts the green and white nation in a commanding position to qualify for Russia 2018 world cup showpiece despite recent draw against Cameroon but the big question is: Can the Super Eagles actually make fans proud and go on to qualify from what was deemed a group of death initially?
The atmosphere was gloomy as Nigeria was still fresh from mourning the loss of their late Legend Stephen Keshi who led the country to African Nations Cup glory as a player and Coach and had lost all hopes of qualifying for the 2017 AFCON showpiece which Cameroon won. So when Nigeria was pitted in a hard-hitting group in 2016 where only the group winner would qualify and they were to face Africa’s best teams and former African Champions, Cameroon and Zambia including the then highest ranked African side, Algeria, It won’t be far-fetched to say many Nigerians would have came up with the conclusion that Nigeria would not be in Russia next year.
Fast forward to October of the same year, Nigeria had forgotten about partaking in the Nations Cup and had their eyes set on a third consecutive qualification for the next Continental silverware, the World Cup having appeared during the 2010 and 2014 editions held in South Africa and Brazil respectively but Nigerians were still in doubts and eleven months later, the doubts have not been cleared yet.
Much to the amazement of many, after four games, the Super Eagles of Nigerian had recorded three victories and a draw in the so called “Group of Death” and these victories had come against every opponent in the group including newly crowned African Champions, Cameroon leaving Nigeria with just a point needed and their spot in Russia is guaranteed but then, the fact should not be hidden and it will not be an exaggeration to say that Nigeria could have pretty much left their mission done and dusted and would have been the seventh Nation to have their place in the FIFA 2018 World Cup automatically sealed but they had to give room for doubts again in the hearts of loyal fans.
Having recorded an hard-fought 2-1 victory against the Chipolopolo of Zambia away from home, an impressive 3-1 victory over Algeria at home coupled with another scintillating 4-0 victory over the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon inspired by a brilliant attacking masterclass, many were filled with the reason to believe in a nation rocked with problem on and off the field again but the draw happened. They travelled to Yaounde for the second leg against Cameroon know fully well that a win will send them to Russia but they put in average performance and shared the spoils with the host team which means they will need to wait another game before assuring themselves of qualification.
The Super Eagles have a reputation of disappointing almost all the time and who knows they might just do the same yet again when they are just this tiny bit close.
What happened during 2015 AFCON Qualifiers?
The Super Eagles came into the 2015 African Cup of Nations Qualifier as reigning champions having defeated Burkina Faso by 1-0 in the 2013 finals held in South Africa thanks to a superb strike by Sunday Mba and they were looking to defend their title in Morroco but disaster struck.
They kick started their qualification campaign poorly with a 3-2 home defeat to Congo, followed it with a goalless draw away to South Africa, a 1-0 defeat to Sudan and suddenly, a once bright prospect turned sour with hopes of qualifying hanging by a thread.
The Super Eagles (defending champions) were left with a tough task of winning all of their remaining three games. They did revive their hopes back beating Sudan 3-1 in the second leg at home, travelled to Congo to win 2-0 and then came the last game, a must-win game against South Africa at home.
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Every Nigerian that paid tickets to watch the game live, visited viewing centres or had to subscribe into their Cable TV to watch the game all wasted their money because Nigeria couldn’t break the stubborn South Africa and they had to settle for a 2-2 draw. Bad News! They needed a victory, they couldn’t get it and elsewhere Congo defeated Sudan 1-0 to finish with ten points. Nigeria crashed out.
2017 AFCON Qualifiers Disaster
They failed to qualify for the 2015 showpiece losing their title to Cote D’ivoire and then came another chance to make it to the AFCON and fight for what they lost.
Unlike the last time, they started brightly recording a 2-0 victory over Chad but followed it with a goalless draw against Tanzania and a 1-1 draw against the Pharaohs of Egypt.
Mid-way into the Qualifiers, Chad withdrew due to financial probIems and then they were three which meant that only the group winner will progress to the Continental showpiece at Gabon.
The Super Eagles couldn’t defeat Egypt at Cairo as they slumped to a 1-0 defeat in a game that was crucial to their qualification chances.
Egypt eventually qualified killing the hopes of Tanzania and Nigeria.
They are at it again fighting for a place in Russia next summer.
but, there is this fact that the fans do sometimes have an impact on a team and indirectly influence a game whether positively or negatively so our Journalists sought to know what Nigerians think of the chances of the Super Eagles making the cut.
According to Francis Tito, “Now that Nigeria have beaten everybody and just need a point to win, no juju or Babalawo from Algeria, Zambia or Cameroon will stop Nigeria”. He even went as far as “no one will stop Nigeria from winning the world cup”
Speaking with Okereke Julius, a boutique owner, “I don’t believe the Super Eagles will disappoint. I trust my people, they will win and they will qualify”.
Master Solomon, a student of the University of Lagos claimed that there is no way Nigeria will throw away their chances of playing the world cup when they have it at their finger tips.”Zambia will be tough but we will beat them let alone Algeria who is yet to register a win”.
Maybe females will be more honest and pragmatic about the situation, so we decided to ask one.
In Angela Chukwuemeka’s words, “The boys need our backing and support. For as long as they know we are behind them, no one can stop them from qualifying. They will not disappoint, I know that”.
While majority are solidly behind the Super Eagles and all doubts seems to have been erased, Nigeria’s coach Gernot Rohr has urged caution until they get over the finishing line, despite being a point away from qualifying for the World Cup
It was a different Cameroon team today, they had three fresh players. We had the same team, Rohr said after the draw on Monday.