Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria/Cote d'Ivoire: Battle of Rustenburg - Iroha Remembers Eagles of 1994

With more than 24 hours to the quarter final match between the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire, tension seems to have gripped all soccer loving Nigerians, including ex national team players, all of whom have expressed reservations on the Eagles chances against their star-studded opponents.

Most Nigerians who have been speaking on both radio and television stations across the land have all given the Eagles little chance against the Didier Drogba and Yaya Toure propelled Ivorian side, stressing that the Eagles still lacked cohesion.

One of the ex internationals and former Eagles' defender Benedict Iroha, who played a huge role

in that 1994 Nations Cup semi final match where the Eagles beat the Ivorians on penalties after a 2-2 draw, who is here in South Africa, said during the week that, "The Ivorians have always been tough customers. I played against them several times. I can never forget that 1994 semi final clash in Tunisia. Most of their players were my team-mates at ASEC Mimosas, including Michelle Bassole who scored their two goals, as well as Abdoulaye Traore and Aka Kouame."

Continuing, Iroha said, "We got back into the game when Rashidi Yekini (of blessed memory) scored and I then exchanged passes with Jay-Jay Okocha to score the equalizer. We had chances to win it in the second half but their goalkeeper, Alain Gouamene, was something else. We eventually won on penalties and beat Zambia in the final to lift the trophy."

Despite apprehension among Nigerian fans, Eagles midfielder, John Mikel Obi, who was earlier rumoured to have bagged two yellow cards and would miss the quarter-final cracker, has warned Drogba and his team-mates not to write off the Nigerian side as they (Eagles) were capable of proving all the doubting Thomases wrong tomorrow. Mikel who missed a penalty against Burkina Faso said the media(he didn't specify whether Nigerian or foreign media) have always reminded them that the Ivorians are very tough and unbeatable, adding that tomorrow's match was a knock-out match and anything was possible.

"Playing against Ivory Coast is going to be both tough and exciting and some of our opponents are my friends, especially Didier Drogba," said the 25-year-old Chelsea star.

"People who write off Nigeria do so at their peril. This is a knock-out match that we can definitely win.

"The media keep reminding us that Ivory Coast are unbeatable - we shall see.

"Ethiopia was a do-or-die game for us and we did really well, especially in the second half. "Having conceded late equalisers against Burkina Faso and Zambia, we told the defence to improve their concentration and they did."

Ivory Coast hold a slight edge over Nigeria at Cup of Nations tournament clashes, winning two and losing one of five meetings that produced a meagre seven goals.

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