Friday's clash between the Super Eagles and defending champions, Zambia, is going to be the defining moment of Group C at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations here at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, South Africa.
Both teams, just like Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, have a point apiece. A defeat for the Eagles Friday afternoon is nothing short of doom and a possible early return trip back home for Stephen Keshi and his wards.
Super Eagles would not have been in this precarious situation today if it had held on to the 1-0 lead scored by Emmanuel Emenike in the 23rd minute till the final whistle against Burkina Faso in the first group game on Monday. Alain Traore stole Eagles joy in the dying seconds of the opener, for the Burkinabes to share points with Nigeria.
But after that slip, Keshi and his wards now know that anything short of outright victory Friday will not be in their interests.
"We are ready for the game against Zambia. We are not going to let Nigerians down," was the message Keshi gave to the couple of Nigerian journalists covering the Nelspruit centre to relay back home after the team's final work out Thursday at their Ingwenyama Resort in the outskirt of the north east city.
Of course, the Eagles head coach, even without mentioning it, is under pressure to deliver. The Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) leadership that was not too pleased with the draw against Burkina Faso told Keshi in no unmistaken language that there should be no repeat of the slip that happened in the first game.
"We know the expectations of Nigerians. We just cannot afford to let them down at this stage," stressed the former Togo and Mali gaffer.
There is likely not going to be any major changes in the Eagles that will line up against the Zambians today except for the absence of regular like Efe Ambrose who got a second yellow card that led to his expulsion.
Vincent Enyeama is to retain his number one jersey while Kenneth Omeruo who came for Brown Ideye after Ambrose's expulsion is sure-bet for the right back. Elderson Echiejile who did a fantastic job policing the left back has no one contesting his starting shirt. The problem in the middle is between Joseph Yobo and Godfrey Oboabona. Both did well collectively until the last minutes when they failed to stop the equalizer. If Oboabona didn't lose concentration, he would have tipped the ball away for a possible corner that may have turned harmless in that dying seconds of the match. But Keshi appears lost of what to do here as his faith in Oboabona remains unshaken.
Why has Fegor Ogude been unable to join the attack as he used to do for his former club, Warri Wolves? Onazi Ogeny could make a difference if Keshi wants to shore up the middle. We all saw what the Lazio lad did against Catalonia and Cape Verde in the friendly matches he played in Faro, Portugal before coming here for the competition. Nothing stops Keshi and his crew from giving the lad a starting shirt instead of Fegor.
Now that Victor Moses appears to have recovered from his hamstring, there is the need to start him, with Ahmed Musa and bullying Emenike, the Zambians may be forced to repeat the same shoddy performance they exhibited against the Ethiopians. Ike Uche who was disappointing with the several missed opportunities against Burkina Faso, ought to stay on the bench to watch from the first 45 minutes what his colleagues are capable of doing to Kennedy Mweene in goal for Zambia. But Eagles must watch out for Christopher Katongo and Mpheleam in the Chipolopolo attack.
Group C HOW THEY STAND
P W D L F A Pts
Nigeria 1 0 1 0 1 1 1
Zambia 1 0 1 0 1 1 1
Ethiopia 1 0 1 0 1 1 1
B' Faso 1 0 1 0 1 1 1