Nigeria football legends Olusegun Odegbami and Garba Lawal have advised the Super Eagles to be extremely cautious, stay focused, be disciplined and have self-belief when they step onto the field against the Indomitable Lions in their Africa Cup of Nations’ Round of 16 encounter in Abidjan on Sunday.
Both giants of the African game have made a rendez-vous at the Stade Félix Houphouët-Boigny, following the Lions’ late surge that ensured a 3-2 win over The Gambia in Bouake on Tuesday, and Nigeria’s earlier second-place finish in group A behind Equatorial Guinea.
Odegbami, a member of Nigeria’s 1980 AFCON-winning squad and former captain of the team, who also played three times against Cameroon in 1975 (friendly game that Nigeria won 1-0), 1978 (All-Africa Games in Algiers that ended 0-0) and 1980 (friendly game that ended 0-0), said the present crop of Super Eagles can achieve victory the way they did against the Lions at the same stage in Egypt four years ago, but must be extremely diligent and be very clinical with the opportunities that come their way.
“We may say that Cameroon have not pulled up any trees at this tournament, but the way they turned the game around against The Gambia sends a message. They are not to be taken for granted. I watched their game against Guinea and it was a fight-to-finish. We have been creating a lot of opportunities in our games but this time, we have to be clinical.
“Cameroon could prove to be a different proposition from the teams we have played against at this competition. Apart from the rivalry between our two countries, the present generation of Indomitable Lions have a point to prove. They want to be seen in the garbs of the likes of Rigobert Song Bahanang (who is their coach), Samuel Eto’o Fils, Patrick Mboma and Geremi Njitap, and going further back, the likes of Roger Milla, Theophile Abega, Gregoire Mbida and Francois Omam Biyick.”
Lawal, nicknamed Chindo, played four times against the Lions in 1997 (LG Cup), 2000 (AFCON final), 2003 (LG Cup) and 2004 (AFCON quarter-final). He says that self-belief will go a long way in steering the Eagles past the Lions on Saturday.
“They must go in there believing in themselves to do the job. Self-confidence is a good feeling when approaching a game like this. I see the Super Eagles getting past the Cameroonians if they believe in themselves and keep it tight at the back.”
Nigeria and Cameroon have clashed at the Africa Cup of Nations seven times, with each team winning thrice and one game drawn. Cameroon won the Final matches of the 1984, 1988 and 2000 AFCON tournaments, while the Eagles won the bronze-medal match 2-1 in 1992, defeated then Cup holders Cameroon 2-1 in the 2004 quarter-finals and won 3-2 in the Round of 16 in Egypt four years ago. Both teams drew 1-1 in the group phase in 1988, Samuel Okwaraji scoring a scorcher after only two minutes in Rabat and Roger Milla equalizing with a header when the Andrew Uwe-led Nigerian defence thought they had kept him off-side.
As the Eagles returned to training on Wednesday, after resting on Tuesday, the match venue is also getting ready to welcome the two teams. It was on the same turf where both teams battled out the 1984 AFCON final.
On 18th March 1984, Président Félix Houphouët-Boigny had declared a public holiday to encourage football fans to troop to the stadium for the final, as public interest in the competition had waned following the group stage elimination of the Elephants. Nigeria got in front after 10 minutes when Muda Lawal toe-poked a deflected pull-out past Joseph Antoine-Bell.
The Lions equalized just before half-time, Stephen Keshi unwittingly diverting the ball into his own net from a free-kick, and they seized the game by the throat in the second half, deploying the experience and exposure from playing three matches unbeaten at the 1982 FIFA World Cup finals in Spain which they won 3-1.
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