As the Super Eagles of Nigeria sauntered and floundered against the Lone Stars of Liberia in Tangier, Morocco in the penultimate game of the second round of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, locals at home, for yet another 90 minutes held their breath for large periods.
More than the closeness between football nations on the continent, it was testament to the popular opinion that the Nigerian male senior national team has not progressed enough under Gernot Rohr- who in contrast, is the longest-serving Super Eagles coach. While Rohr can’t be said to have failed, as that may be an outright point of dislike, he has not covered himself in glory as Nigeria’s coach since the 2018 World Cup.
The foundations on which he built whatever respect he currently earns are now wobbly. Under the Franco-German, Nigeria played some exciting and effective football to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, at the expense of Cameroon and Algeria, two countries who are by every means, giants in African football. Four years since staking a claim as reviving the lost spark in the Super Eagles, Rohr now struggles to convince his staunch supporters with the Nigerian team running on a row of consistent average performances.
The victory against the Central African Republic in the return fixture, a few days after the sucker-punch in Lagos, did very little to appease Super Eagles supporters. Nigeria losing at home to the CAR was dubbed embarrassing, even if football serves some bitter stories of such, on some days. This last crack in Lagos has put Super Eagles fans on the edge of their seats as Nigeria faces Cape Verde in the final group game, hoping to earn a convincing win in Lagos, or at least, get a draw to book passage to the third and final round of the World Cup qualifiers.
Lagos represents everything in Nigeria. It is as much of a dream as it is a nightmare. Many players in the current setup can connect to the city, and understand that a third letdown at home (recall Sierra Leone), will be the nail on the coffin. A generation that promises so much may shoot itself in the foot if nothing but a good victory is earned against the Cape Verdeans. Nigeria’s fate is hanging in the balance with the Qatar 2022 World Cup in sight.
But they are not alone on the tipping point game.
Black Stars Must Avoid Rainbow Scars
West African rivals, Ghana also face a difficult test against South Africa in their final group game. The Black Stars led until the 73rd minute against Ethiopia but let a narrow lead slip. This, in addition to South Africa’s 2-0 victory against Zimbabwe proved to establish a difficult route for the Ghanaians, and should be hailing their resolve if they make it through.
A final game at home would see fans rooting for their stars and anything short of victory is doom for the team. The dismissal of CK Akonnor and return of Milovan Rajevac is seen by many as the step in the right direction but without a final round berth at least, Ghanaians will be at a new low ebb in their football.
Without star Arsenal midfielder, Thomas Partey, Ghana hope they can do enough to guarantee a place amongst the last ten nations fighting for a place at the Mundial.
When Silky Elephants Face Indomitable Lions
Cameroon will host Ivory Coast on Tuesday in a winner-takes-all contest. The Ivorians currently sit on top of the table with 13 points, followed closely by the Ivorians on 12 points. The make-up of their tussle is a piquant stew for neutrals as it will be a clash of giants on the continent.
Ivory Coast possesses one of the most potent attacking units on the continent and can count on them when the chips are down but in Cameroon, they face a team which has its confidence on the high, and one hoping to stage a return to the World Cup. Ivory Coast also want to play at the global football festival and with its arrays of stars, will strive to nick at least a draw in Cameroon. This will not come short of drama, tension and at the extreme, physical battles, as it serves a replication of old memories.
Anything short of a stalemate puts Ivory Coast on a waiting train for the next four years and that may be a period which sees its best legs beyond their best years.
Algeria vs Burkina Faso: Stallions Look To Quench Thirst In The Desert
On the football map in Africa and the world, Burkina Faso doesn’t come near Algeria in history or relevance. Regardless of where the bias bends, to the angle of nostalgia or recency, the Foxes hold a superior appeal and respect.
Four-time attendees at the World Cup, Algeria will hope to take a step closer to returning to the mundial, after missing out on the 2018 edition. For Burkina Faso, the dream is different. The Stallions are hoping to move closer to qualifying for the first appearance at the World Cup and put an icing on their impressive performances in the last two years.
With two points separating both teams and Algeria needing just a point at home, the Stallions’ thirst for triumph may need an oasis, which their more illustrious opponents won’t provide on a platter of gold. It’s a dicey game with all the condiments of a beauty, but the narrative, quality and inspiration falls on Algeria’s side.
However, football, being what it is, may have different plans on the day, and that’s what makes it even more mouthwatering.
Equatorial Guinea Counting On Zambia’s Bullets To Hurt Tunisia
The Nzalang Nacionale of Equatorial Guinea will hope lightning strikes twice on their opposition from Tunisia, but this time in the form of bullets.
Zambia will play away to the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in the final group game and will hope to clip the group leaders’ wings, and do their part in helping Equatorial Guinea make a atep towards a somewhat impossible qualification for the World Cup. Yet, impossible is nothing, and that’s the fuel the Equatoguineans are charging on.
Tunisia faces a much more difficult opposition in Zambia and know anything short of a victory is a recipe for catastrophe as Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea’s opponent have lost four and drawn one of their give games so far.
With both Tunisia and Equatorial Guinea level on points, with 10 each, the final game throws up an interesting contest that will be highly determined by the pace and sharpness of Zambia’s copper bullets and Tunisia’s ability to manoeuvre through a rain of shots.
The Early Settlers
Mali, Morocco, Senegal and Egypt have booked their place for the next and final round of the qualifiers, and they’ve been joined by DR Congo who waited till the final day to inflict a damage on Benin Republic’s hopes.
With five countries already registered for the final round, the fates of other giants are still on the cliff hanger and a wrong step may see them waiting for the plane to the United States, Mexico and Canada.
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