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Cameroon, Nigeria in dance of death


Coach of Cameroonian national football team Hugo Broos speaks to players before training ahead of their FIFA World Cup qualifier against their Nigerian counterpart in Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo in Akwa Ibom State, southern Nigeria on August 31, 2017. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

I am struggling to write this on Thursday night. ‘Under normal temperature and pressure’, as we used to say in physics class in those days, I should be commenting on the Super Eagles and their prospects in the very crucial first leg group qualification match for the 2018 World Cup against their fierce African rivals, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.

By the time you are reading this the match would have taken place on Friday – won and lost.

So, the only thing I can do now is comment in anticipation of my expectations of what could happen. In short, play ‘prophet’! That poses a serious challenge.

I am thinking. Nigeria never plays matches on Fridays. International matches are usually played either on a Saturday, or a Sunday, that’s the tradition. A weekday match of this magnitude is uncommon. To play two such matches, back to back, on two weekdays within a period of four days, is unheard of.  But that’s the situation here, Nigeria and Cameroun will settle their scores as to who represents their group in Russia in 2018 in two matches to be played in both countries on Friday and next Monday, September 4.

To compound the unusualness of the dates, the duo of the matches represent, probably, the most crucial between the two countries that will determine their fate in the World Cup qualifiers for different reasons.

For the Camerouns, they have to win the match in Nigeria, period.  Anything short of that means they can count themselves out of the race for the World Cup.

That challenge is, therefore, daunting considering that Cameroun have never beaten Nigeria on home soil in a competitive match.

What makes them think it can be done this time around?

Without question, the Camerounians can see the faint outlines of the possibility of defeating Nigeria because the country’s national football team, the Super Eagles, have never been this vulnerable and this weak.

They are so weak they lost scandalously to South Africa, a team that had never beaten them in a competitive match played anywhere in the world in 24 years of competitive matches between them. The Bafana Bafana did the ‘impossible’ by defeating the Eagles on home soil in a manner (so easily, by 2 goals un-replied goals). That definitely created Cameroun’s current impetus to dare to dream that they too can achieve a similar feat and defeat Nigeria at home!

By the time you are reading this that whole thought process would either have been ‘killed’ with Nigeria’s victory (or even a draw) over Cameroun, or fanned by Nigeria’s defeat.

For the first time in a long time I am speechless. I cannot even vouch for the Super Eagles as they take on their perennial rivals, who seem to be better prepared for the two matches as a result of having played many more competitive matches than the Eagles en route this series of matches.

Since the disgraceful performance against South Africa in Uyo, the Eagles have not played any serious friendly matches to become a proper team with understanding, which was what was obviously missing in the team that lost.

They need to play together more to become a well-blended team that can win two difficult matches in the space of four days.

Gernot Rohr must be going through difficulty addressing the issue. He has addressed the challenge by recalling some older and more experienced players in the hope that they would rekindle their long time basic understanding of each other and play as a team on the night. That is the only kind of preparation they can have before these two crucial matches. It is a dangerous landmine ahead.

Having said all that, Nigeria’s position in the group, with six points after two matches, gives them a cushion obviously better than that of Cameroun with two points from the same number of matches, and are, therefore, less pressured and less desperate to throw everything into the ring and go for a win at all cost.

Cameroun need to win the two matches. The Super Eagles, with the comfortable lead they have amassed by defeating their Zambian and Algerian counterparts in their first two matches (the return legs of those matches still lie ahead), do not have to win the two matches. Three points garnered anyhow from the two matches will see them occupy an unassailable position in the race for Russia 2018.

That’s the setting for the two matches, one of which must have been decided by the time you are reading this.

My oracle sees nothing and, so, predicts nothing for the first match. The pressure is high for both teams, but it is the Super Eagles that hold the ace.

Their only challenge is the psychological damage done by their last defeat. How well has the team recovered from that traumatic experience? How much damage was done to the psyche of the new players that were given the opportunity to start a new generation of Super Eagles but failed to impress anyone on the night?

How fit are the recalled ageing players to salvage the dented reputation of the team?

So, Victor Moses is back. That is brilliant. He is Nigeria’s most outstanding player at the moment, very hot after a great season playing regularly and brilliantly for Chelsea FC.

We don’t know much about the shape of Ighalo and Mikel, both playing in China and heading towards retirement.

The trio is at the core of Genrot Rohr’s response to these two extremely tricky and difficult matches.

By the time you are reading this, I hope, the Eagles would have defeated the Lions and put an end to the tension and the previous agony of Nigerians as their beloved team staggers towards the finish line of the Russia 2018 World Cup group qualifiers.

D’Tigress – Deserved Champions Of African Basketball
The female national basketball team of Nigeria, D’Tigress, went to Mali, played flawlessly against the rest of Africa, and emerged unscathed as Champions of Africa, 12 years after they last won it.

This time the victory was so convincing that there is a feeling out there that Nigerian basketball has truly come of age.

The secret to this success is obvious.

America has helped to train and to develop Nigerian basketball players. Nine of the 12 girls that represented the country came from Europe and the United States, but all of them went through the American Collegiate system.

The other three girls that made up the team play in the same Nigerian club, First Bank. The process of blending and team building was simple.

Some of us have always believed that the cheapest, fastest and surest way to develop Nigerian sports, without attempting to reinvent the wheel, is to carefully adopt, engage and use what American Colleges offer gifted Nigerian athletes – an education, scholarship, state-of-the-art facilities and highest level of training.

Whilst developing our local higher institutions to better embrace sports and promote authentic sports development within them, the National Sports Commission should make scholarships available for identified talented athletes in most sports for their honing by sports-friendly higher institutions in Nigeria as well as hungry-for-talent American colleges and universities.

I congratulate the great Nigerian D’Tigress and thank them for reminding us all that this country, with the right leadership in sports and proper attention, can become a sports superpower in a blink.

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