‘Nothing special about desert foxes of Algeria’
A semifinal clash between the two teams tomorrow in Cairo is being tagged ‘final before the final’ of the competition by some top football analysts, administrators, fans and journalists going by the teams’ past encounters.
With the exit of two North African giants, Atlas Lions of Morocco and host, Pharaohs of Egypt, in the round of 16, Algeria and Tunisia are being tipped as favourites to lift the trophy on July 19. But that is not the views of Super Eagles players, their coaches, supporters and many Nigerian residents here in Egypt.
Although the Algerians, who edged out the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in their quarterfinal tie via a penalty shootout on Thursday, look more physical and energetic, Super Eagles’ captain, John Obi Mikel says there is nothing special about the Desert Foxes.
“We have beaten Algeria before, and I don’t see any reason we can’t do the same here in Egypt. Why not? We can do it again,” 32-year-old Mikel told The Guardian yesterday.
Perhaps, one encounter against Algeria that still lingers in the memory of many Nigerians many years after was the 0-2 defeat the then Green Eagles suffered on home soil in the race to 1982 Word Cup held in Spain.
The Eagles had defeated the Desert Warriors of Algeria, as the team was called then, 3-0 to win the 1980 edition of the African Cup of Nations in Lagos, and many Nigerians were expecting a repeat performance in the battle for the World Cup ticket. But the match, which also took place at the National Stadium in Surulere in 1981, ended 2-0 in favour of the visiting Algerians, a result that forced many Nigerian football fans to beds earlier than was usual.
The Desert Foxes also forced some bitter pills down the throat of the Super Eagles in 1990, when they hosted the African Cup of Nations. They recorded a 5-1 victory in the opening match and 1-0 win in the final against the Super Eagles team led by Clemens Westerhof.
Since then, the Super Eagles always find a way of caging the Desert Foxes at major competitions. In fact, the Nigerian team paid the Algerians back in their own coins in 2005, when they handed a humiliating 5-2 defeat to the Desert Foxes in a FIFA World Cup qualifier in front of their home fans.
The Guardian recalls another encounter between the two teams, this time in the Angolan city of Benguela in 2010. The Super Eagles led by coach Amodu Shuibu had suffered a 1-0 defeat to Ghana Black Stars in the semifinal in Luanda. A third-place match against Algeria at the Ombaka National Stadium ended 1-0 for the Super Eagles with Obinna Nsofor providing the lone strike. The Super Eagles also defeated Algeria 4-1 in 2016 in the race to Russia 2018 World Cup. The return leg in Algeria ended 1-1 after Gabonese referee, Eric Otogo-Castane awarded a dubious penalty to the Desert Warriors.
But Nigerian football was greeted with the unpleasant news a few hours later when FIFA deducted three points from the Eagles for fielding an ineligible player, Abdullahi Shehu in the game.
Shehu, who is playing a key role for the Super Eagles in the on-going AFCON in Egypt, had accumulated two yellow cards, which should have seen him miss that game against Algeria in 2017.
The deducted points notwithstanding, the Super Eagles still qualified for the World Cup in Russia with 11 points, three more than second-placed Zambia, while Algeria Desert Foxes were eliminated.
Tomorrow’s semifinal here in Cairo will afford the likes of Abdullahi Shehu an opportunity to pay Algeria back for that ‘boardroom’ point they got against Nigeria in 2017.
To Mikel, who missed out in the last two games against Cameroun and South Africa, securing a place in the final is a task that must be accomplished by the Super Eagles tomorrow.
He has called on his teammates to draw upon the achievements of six years ago to help Nigeria win the AFCON title for the fourth time.
He said: “Hopefully, we can repeat our winning mentality as we did in 2013 in South Africa. Our target is to win the trophy, and we have the squad capable of beating any team in this competition.”
The Super Eagles could not defend the AFCON title they won under coach Stephen Keshi in 2013 after failing to qualify for the 2015 edition co-hosted by Gabon/Equatorial Guinea. And in the race for 2017 edition in Gabon, Coach Samson Siasia bungled it when the Super Eagles surrendered their 1-0 lead to draw 1-1 with the Pharaohs of Egypt in Kaduna.
For Mikel and his teammates, beating Algeria in tomorrow’s semi, and going ahead to win the trophy on July 19 is like defending their South Africa 2013 title.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Mohammed Sanusi has called on Nigerians to stand by the Super Eagles by encouraging the players ahead of tomorrow’s cracker against the Desert Foxes of Algeria.
Sanusi told The Guardian in Cairo yesterday that the federation had done its best by giving the players and their technical crew the motivation they need to win the title. “We have done our part, but it is very important Nigerians stand by the team. The players need the encouragement of everyone to do well,” Sanusi stated.
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