Nigerians recall ‘night of agony’ as Eagles battle Cameroon’s Lions
Today’s round of 16 clash between the Super Eagles and Indomitable Lions of Cameroon at the on-going Egypt 2019 Afcon has re-opened old memories of past encounters between the two teams. For some Nigerians here in Alexandria, the final of the Ghana/Nigeria 2000 edition of the African Cup of Nations played at the National Stadium in Lagos stands out. They want the Super Eagles to avenge that defeat, which they referred to as a ‘night of agony’ in Lagos.
Today’s battle of Alexandria between Nigeria, three–time winner of the Afcon title and the defending champions, Cameroon, who are five–time winners, is being tagged final before final of the 2019 edition.
The fixture could have been avoided if both teams had not finished second in their respective groups. The Lions of Cameroon have had the upper hand against the Super Eagles in AFCON history, although Nigeria has won 13 of 22 encounters in all at senior level. And just last year, the Super Eagles humiliated the Indomitable Lions in the race to the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
One encounter that is fresh in the memory of Omokuvie Daniel, a member of the Nigeria Football Supporters’ Club, is the final in 2000 in Surulere Lagos.
“Anytime we have a match against the Lions of Cameroon, what comes to my mind is that encounter in Lagos. I couldn’t sleep throughout that night. We came from Warri to watch the final, and I recall how we stayed under the sun for several hours battling to enter the stadium. That defeat is still fresh in my mind, and I want the Super Eagles to beat Cameroun on Saturday (today),” Omokuvie said.
At the 2000 final in Lagos, a 2-2 draw in regulation and extra time was followed by a penalty shootout, during which Tunisian referee Mourad Daami controversially ruled out the kick by Victor Ikpeba that television replays later showed to have crossed the line behind goalkeeper Alioum Boukar.
Nigeria got some revenge in 2004, when Jay Jay Okocha spearheaded a comeback in a quarterfinal tie in Monastir, Tunisia that ended 2-1 in favour of Nigeria, and after waiting 13 years, the Eagles dismantled reigning African champions, Cameroun 4-0 in a World Cup qualifier in Uyo before a 1-1 draw in Yaounde days later en route Russia 2018 World Cup.
It is also on record that the Lions have not beaten the Super Eagles in regulation time since August 27, 1989, when an under-strength Nigeria side lost 0-1 in Yaounde in an Italia 1990 World Cup qualifier–two weeks after Samuel Okwaraji died in another World Cup qualifier against Angola in Lagos.
In 1984, in an entertaining AFCON final in Abidjan, Cameroun came from one goal down to defeat Nigeria 3-1, exhibiting the quality and experience that had made them unbeaten at the FIFA World Cup in Spain two years earlier. Four years later, at the same stage in Casablanca, the Lions were less convincing, as Nigeria lost following Mauritanian referee Idrissa Saar’s inexplicable decision to disallow a goal by Henry Nwosu in the first half, and then award a soft penalty to the Lions early in the second half.
Today’s encounter at the 20,000–capacity Alexandria Stadium will be a fight-to-finish. Despite lifting a fifth African title in Gabon 30 months ago, Cameroun failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and were less than convincing in qualifying for this tournament.
All eyes will be on coach Gernot Rohr and his army to come up with a playing pattern that can cage the Lions this afternoon. Nigeria appears to be seeing the last active days of captain Mikel Obi on international duty, but young fighters such as Alex Iwobi, Moses Simon, Samuel Chukwueze, Wilfred Ndidi, Ola Aina, Chidozie Awaziem and even the experienced Odion Ighalo are aware they cannot afford to falter at this stage in their AFCON debut. The burden is on Ahmed Musa’s shoulders to rally the troop from the 0-2 humiliation by a lowly rated Madagascar and go for the kill against the Indomitable Lions.
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