The Super Eagles of Nigeria will take on defending champions Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in one of the Round of 16 matches on Saturday at the ongoing 2019 AFCON in Egypt.
The game which sees the five-time champions take on three-times champions Nigeria in the scorching heat of Alexandria can best be described as a battle of wingless Eagles facing clawless Lions.
Such a description cannot be faulted, especially as the Super Eagles have not been “super’’ at the competition so far, even when they were winning against Burundi and Cameroon.
Equally, the Lions have looked very less likely to dominate, even appearing vulnerable as they struggled against Benin Republic and Ghana.
However, it is the expectation of many Nigeria football fans that the Eagles will show their true self and go on to devour the clawless Lions.
Of course, they will not forget in a hurry how Cameroon defeated Nigeria in the final of the AFCON in 1984, 1988 and 2000.
But more painful was that agonising penalty shoot-out loss in front of home fans at the National Stadium in Lagos on Feb. 13, 2000.
However, most recently and in the 2018 FIFA World Cup African qualifying series, the Super Eagles thrashed the Lions 4-0 in Uyo and were forced to a 1-1 draw in Yaounde.
Beyond this and the bragging rights, the Super Eagles are expected to pick themselves up from Sunday’s embarrassing loss to debutants Madagascar and go all out for victory.
Now is time for Eagles’ coach Gernot Rohr, who has been criticised for not having a consistent line -up at the competition, to take some hard decisions and change tactics to win the game.
Team captain Mikel Obi who had a knock in the last game will surely miss the game, with Alex Iwobi replacing him.
Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo should be part of the starting line-up to complete the diamond defensive shield in the midfield.
The Super Eagles have always thrived on fast movements from the wings, with effective ability to convert defence to attack through the channels.
Ex-international Mutiu Adepoju told NAN, while previewing the match, that Nigeria must change tactics and improve on its transition from midfield to attack.
He said this was necessary to break down the stubborn Cameroon defence which has not conceded in the tournament.
“In our next match, we need to do better in our transitional play. We must move the ball faster from defence to midfield and attack.
“We need to have the ability to surprise our opponents and not to be very predictable,” Adepoju said.
With this said, South Africa-based Daniel Akpeyi is expected to return to goal while Kenneth Omeruo who has been outstanding should also return to partner William Troost-Ekong in central defence.
Ahmed Musa, Samuel Chukwueze, Moses Simon, Samuel Kalu or Henry Onyekuru will be expected to use their pace and trickery on the flanks.
Such is needed to supply Odion Igahlo with the finish the Eagles need to break down the rugged Cameroonian defence.
But one important ingredient to success is timely and apt substitutions, and that is one major attribute which distinguishes a good tactician.
This is in his ability to read the game and make effective substitutions when things are not going right in the game, and Rohr must therefore up the ante in this regard.
Bitrus Bewarang, the Technical Director of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), has nonetheless praised the coach for his substitutions in the first game against Burundi.
But he also called for more effective changes, especially in the competition’s knockout stage.
On the other hand, the Indomitable Lions have failed to impress in the defence of their AFCON title so far with just one victory from three matches.
Clarence Seedorf’s men failed to win or score in their last two fixtures but have a very resolute defence that has not conceded so far in the tournament.
Team captain Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting has had a disappointing outing in Egypt so far, failing to find the net after three appearances.
But the striker is still expected to start in attack alongside Karl Toko Ekambi, who is also seeking his first goal in the competition.
While this makes the Indomitable Lions appear unpredictable, Nigerians will be hoping that Rohr will get his starting line -up right.
He will be expected to effect the necessary substitutions immediately things are not going according to plan, so as to scale the Indomitable Lions’ hurdle and give Nigerians victory on Saturday.
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