Next weekend there is going to be a war in Uyo. The Akwa Ibom State capital is fast becoming the football capital of Nigeria.
Everyone can now appreciate the vision of the State Government and the benefits of locating a magnificent state-of-the-art stadium complex in one of the remote State capitals of Nigeria. Not only has that move drawn maximum media attention to the city, but it also moves a whole travelling army of football followers, tens of thousands of them from outside the State, to the city every time Nigeria’s most powerful and best advertising product, the Super Eagles, go to play there.
Next weekend, therefore, all roads will lead once again to Uyo where the team that has never lost a match on the ground takes on the Desert Foxes of Algeria in a match that can possibly determine the team that will represent Group D of the African qualifiers at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
That’s how important and critical this match is.
Only a few months ago very few Nigerians would have given the Super Eagles, a jaded team in the past two years, much of a chance against Algeria miles ahead of Nigeria in the global FIFA rankings. I recall that the Desert Foxes have been rated the best national team on the continent in recent years.
But the last few months have proved to be a very long time indeed for both teams as they undergo massive internal changes. The positions may be shifting since the group matches started and Nigeria now lies atop the group.
Recently, the Nigerian team hired a new foreign technical adviser, German coach Gernot Rohr, to rejig the national team.
Also, on the eve of the Nigerian match, with only two weeks to the epic game, the Algerian Football Federation got rid of their former coach after drawing their last World Cup qualifier against Cameroon in Algiers, and replaced him with another foreigner, one who had coached the same team some 13 years ago and had stints with a few other African countries since then– Belgian Georges Leekens.
Since Rohr took over the Super Eagles the Nigerian team has looked spritely, has improved considerably and has been playing with greater confidence. Rohr has surely been instilling some discipline and organization to the team with the growing number of new, young and gifted forwards that fate has been throwing in his path. In the past few months, Nigeria’s attack can now boast of some of the continent’s most lethal strikers.
True, the Eagles may not have been scoring as many goals as the strikers available to the team deserve, but I believe they will still play all night on the night probing the Algerian goal from all angles, with their defense struggling to contain what promises to be a ceaseless onslaught.
A quick look at the strikers available to Rohr is revealing: Victor Moses (probably in the best form of his career up till now); Ifeanacho (one of the most improved African player in the ongoing EPL season); Iwobi (a great attacking midfielder); Ighalo (a bulldozer of a striker keeping defenders busy all night); and Ahmed Musa (one of the fastest forwards in European football now getting some regular time play in Leicester City FC).
I predict that one player that will make all the difference in this match is Victor Moses. He, in particular, has settled down as a fixture in the new improving Chelsea FC side. This has given him the confidence to raise his game to a very high level. He would be the greatest thorn in the heart of the Algerians.
How the Algerian defense will contain and survive these rampaging Nigerian forwards is what the ‘war’ in Uyo is all about.
The Desert Foxes are a very solid team. They are mature and experienced campaigners in African football. They are probably the most technical team in the continent, always a difficult team for most African teams to play against because of their tactical depth.
They also come to Uyo with an exciting front line of two of Africa’s current best players.
Riyad Mahrez. This left-footed player playing from the right side of attack is always a bundle to handle for any defender. His performances in Leicester City’s fairytale success in the EPL last season (ending up as champions) has the imprint of Mahrez written all over it. Little wonder he was elected by his co-players in the EPL as their choice of Player of the year.
The duel between him and Nigeria’s also very experienced left back, Echiejile, will be truly exciting to watch.
Add to that the presence of the ever- prowling striker, Algeria’s golden boy and 2014 World Cup hero, Mahrez’s teammate in Leicester City, Islam Slimani!
Slimani joined Leicester City this season from Sporting Lisbon where he was scoring goals with abandon last season to add to the team’s firepower. This is the combination they bring to the Algerian national team and will be unleashed in Uyo.
The war in Uyo will be real. It will be a battle of the forwards, with a formidable Algerian attack tormenting the Nigerian defense as much and as well as the Nigerian attackers will also be doing to the Algerian defense line.
I am looking at my old crystal ball now. The match will be closely fought and keenly contested. There will not be many goals. A slim victory for Nigeria looks like being on the cards.
Or, a draw? A draw would be the best the Desert Foxes can ever hope for from this match, even if that would be really bad news for Nigeria.
My advise to all those who are postulating about the outcome of this critically important match is that they set aside all their preconceived notions about tradition, records, history, computations, permutations and look towards a terrific match between two very powerful and technically savvy teams.
Where would the pendulum of victory swing? I go back to my old crystal ball. I peer into its lenses. It reveals nothing.