Ailing goalkeeper Ikeme inspires Eagles
Seriously ill Nigeria goalkeeper Carl Ikeme is inspiring his team-mates ahead of a key 2018 World Cup qualifier at African champions Cameroon Monday.
The 31-year-old shot-stopper was diagnosed with acute leukaemia during a routine medical at English second-tier club Wolverhampton Wanderers three months ago.
“We pledged to win this match for Carl,” said Germany-born Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr after a 4-0 rout of Cameroon in Uyo this weekend.
“He is in my thoughts and those of the coaches, players and officials all the time. I believe he will inspire us in Cameroon.”
With Ikeme hospitalised in England and South Africa-based reserve Daniel Akpeyi injured, local Ikechukwu Ezenwa dealt capably with the limited threats from well-policed Cameroon.
Nigeria are sitting pretty in Group B — branded the “group of death” — with a maximum nine points from three matches.
Zambia have four, Cameroon two and Algeria, the most impressive African side at the 2014 World cup in Brazil, only one.
Nigeria can become the first African qualifiers for the World Cup in Russia if they triumph in Yaounde and Zambia do not win in Algeria 24 hours later.
Rohr hopes current and former Chelsea players Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel can replicate the form that helped humiliate Cameroon in Uyo.
“Mikel is our leader and demonstrated that against Cameroon,” said the coach about the China-based playmaker who scored the second goal against the “Indomitable Lions”.
“I was pleasantly surprised because he has played very little football for about six months. His efforts meant a lot to the team.”
Belgium-born Cameroon coach Hugo Broos accepts that Cameroon are set to miss the 2018 World Cup having dropped seven points in three matches.
“Only a miracle can rescue us,” he admitted. “We would have to win our remaining three matches and hope Nigeria lose their last three. I do not think that is possible.
“But we have to defend our honour. If the players have the same attitude as me, we will fight to beat Nigeria.”
Algeria and Cameroon are not the only 2014 World Cup qualifiers from Africa struggling, with Ghana also in serious trouble ahead of a Group E match in Congo Brazzaville Tuesday.
The “Black Stars” trail leaders Uganda by five points and Egypt by four.
Veteran captain and striker Asamoah Gyan admits they are staring elimination in the face.
“It is going to be very difficult to qualify,” he accepted after a late Thomas Partey goal salvaged a 1-1 home draw with bottom-of-the-table Congo in Kumasi.
“Tactically, mentally — things did not go well for us,” he said of a side that qualified for the last three World Cups and reached the 2010 quarter-finals.
Uganda edged Egypt 1-0 in Kampala and must try and repeat that feat Tuesday in the intimidating cauldron of the 87,000-seat Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria.
“My players had an off-day in Uganda,” said Argentina-born Egypt coach Hector Cuper. “We still have nine points to fight for.”
Although the “Pharaohs” have been African champions a record seven times, they have consistently battled to qualify for the World Cup, last reaching the finals 27 years ago.
South Africa had hopes of a fourth appearance at the four-yearly global football showpiece dented by a 2-1 away loss to Cape Verde after taking an early lead.
“The importance of the game affected a few players and they did not reach their normal standard,” conceded England-born coach Stuart Baxter.
Burkina Faso top Group D with five points as they chase a maiden World Cup qualification, Senegal and South Africa have four and Cape Verde three.