Today is the day of decision. Consequently, the sports loving people of Calabar in Cross River State and other football fans across the country would storm the UJ Esuene stadium Calabar to cheer their darling team the Super Eagles to victory over visiting Lone Star of Liberia.
The return leg of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier is a must win match for the two teams because the group ticket is at stake. What makes today's encounter even more interesting is the fact that going by the result of the first leg played in Monrovia on October 8, any of them stand a good chance of qualifying. The first leg ended 2-2 with the Liberians forcing the draw on the dot of time.
The failure of the Eagles to pick the maximum points has added to the existing pressure on them as most football fans are jittery over their chances to record a clear victory over the Lone Star today. Moreover, it was at this same stage that the Eagles failed to qualify for the 2012 AFCON in Gabon/Equatorial Guinea when they could not fly past the Guineans.
Although it is said in local parlance that lightening does not strike twice at the same spot, going by the Eagles lethargic performances in recent times, only a few can beat their chests loudly to say Eagles would triumph over the Lone Star.
The team that struggled against Lone Star in Monrovia is intact with few additions like John Mikel Obi, Joel Obi and Onazi Ogenyi of Lazio, but the absence of Joseph Yobo due to injury is a major setback for the team. Although not playing his best game at the moment, the Eagles captain usually brings his wealth of experience to bear on the team. He provides the necessary confidence and direction for the much younger defenders to follow. However, this will be missing this evening.
Another sore point in the team's preparation is the absence of Kano Pillars combative mid-fielder, Reuben Gabriel. In the first leg in Monrovia, the absence of the young lad was felt in the centre of the pack. A player with sufficient energy, he does most of the dirty work in the mid-field. Not only that, he knows the direction to goal as he proved in the away game against Rwanda. His absence due to groin injury is a big minus for the team.
Nevertheless, the erratic performance in goal of the team's assistant captain, Vincent Enyeama is another source of concern. Costly blunders from him on two different occasions denied the team the maximum points. He gifted the Rwandans a goal to leave them off the hook and on October 8 in Monrovia, a pedestrian goalkeeping error from him handed the Lone Star the draw that may prove to be Eagles albatross this evening.
Eagles coach has close to 30 players to pick from. All the foreign based players promptly responded to invitation extended to them and for a player like Joel Obi and the other Obi from Chelsea, this is the moment for them to prove in concrete terms that they can be relied upon to salvage the situation.
The Liberians are talking tough but it is not new because at this stage, mind games are always necessary. So much has been heard of how the Liberians are plotting to shock the Eagles in their backyard. After a little hide and seek, the Liberian Football Federation, LFF, disclosed its itinerary. On Thursday, a delegation of 125, including players, officials, the media and supporters from the tiny West African country stormed Calabar in a chartered flight.
The arrival of the Eagles opponents set the city of Calabar agog. The ordinary man on the street of Calabr knows it is a must win match. Verbal duels between fans of Lone Star and the Eagles have reached feverish pitch.
Even if Nigerians are not as optimistic as they should, the Eagles themselves are upbeat ahead of this match. The chief coach, Stephen Keshi said the team is now well set to confront the Lone Star and would come out victorious this evening.
Speaking at Metropolitan Hotel, the abode of the team, the coach said: "The boys have come to Calabar with a big capacity with the sure hope of emerging victory against the Liberians".
He said Yobo is out but would be available to spur the team. "His presence would be a booster to the team, who are presently well set for the encounter.".
Vincent Enyeama, Eagles assistant captain and number one goalkeeper, said his colleagues have trained well in order to spring a surprise. He said that they would not disappoint the country because the Eagles cannot afford to be out of the 2013 AFCON.
Kalu Uche said he was very happy to have come home to play for his country. "I want to win and make my country proud. But the important thing is that we seriously need your prayers to enable succeed", he said.
It is on record that Liberia has never beaten Eagles in Nigeria but there is always a first time and this is what the Lone Star players will be playing for. Having come this far and seen the Super Eagles struggled to hold them back in the first leg, the Liberians are aiming high.
Nothing can be as motivating as the presidential support for the Lone Star. A committee set up specifically for the Eagles match has mobilized enough dollars to spur the players against the Eagles. The team has been promised a winning bonus of 300,000 dollars and this is the kind of money that can propel a team to rise above any hurdle.
Ahmed Musa's team mate, Sekou Jabateh-Oliseh who has connections with Nigeria through the Oliseh family is a major threat to the Eagles. He scored against Eagles in Monrovia and will like to nail Nigeria's coffin this evening.
For Eagles and Lone Star, this is a moment of no retreat, no surrender.