This evening in Uyo, it will be a top-of-the-table clash when the Super Eagles of Nigeria take on reigning African Champions, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, in a World Cup qualifier, at the 'nest of champions.' The game will be the first leg of a double header against the Cameroonians in just four days, as the return leg comes up in Yaoundé, next Monday.
The importance of the task ahead for the Nigerian team cannot be over emphasized as they know that four points out of a possible six will see them with one foot in Russia for next year's World Cup. Nigeria currently tops the group with six points, followed by Cameroon with two points, and Algeria and Zambia with one point each.
Winning this game will provide a clear 7-point lead serving as a huge morale booster for the Super Eagles' reverse leg. Anything short of this will be a huge setback as it will quickly take away the team's current position of power as well as the team's qualification fate.
We have a full house already in Uyo and the 'big boys' are also very ready and amped for this fixture. The likes of Mikel Obi, Odion Ighalo and Victor Moses, who were not part of the defeat to South Africa in the AFCON qualifiers, are here for this one, while Hapoel Be'er Sheva hit-man, Tony Nwakaeme is also in the team after getting his first call-up. From all indications, the Super Eagles are ready for the Indomitable Lions but let's take a look at our common history.
We all know the Cameroonians and their robust style of football. We've come up against them 20 times and in those 20 games, we have won 10, lost four and drawn six. We might have a winning record against them, but in competitive games, their victories against us have been more impactful. They beat the Eagles in two AFCON finals and drew a third one before going on to win on penalties.
The lions stopped Nigeria from qualifying for the Italia 90 World Cup in a 1-0 final qualifier in Yaoundé. However, that has been the only victory over the Super Eagles in four World Cup qualifiers, Nigeria has two victories and the other game ended in a draw. This new crop of Indomitable Lions were not considered as heavyweights on the continent a year ago, but since their triumph at this year's AFCON in Gabon, they cannot be ignored. They have some very talented and key players that can damage and dampen the Nigerian mood if they are allowed to flourish. Here are five of them.
The 21-year-old who plays for Chinese side, Henan Jianye, emerged the Most Valuable Player (MVP) at this year's Africa Cup of Nations, which the Indomitable Lions won. He started all six games at the tournament scoring in the semi-final as the Indomitable Lions beat Ghana 2-0. He is a very pacy player who likes to run at defenders and enjoys taking them on. He dribbles very well and has an eye for the killer pass and this is a player that the Super Eagles' defence must keep a close eye on, because a single lapse in concentration is all he needs to punish. His sterling performances at the AFCON earned him a big money move to China, and he will be familiar with some of our players based there.
This is another forward player that the Super Eagles need to be wary of. He scored 13 goals in 25 appearances for Lorient last season. Though they were relegated from the top flight, he earned himself a move to China, where he has already scored four goals in five matches and also produced three assists for his Jiangsu Suning FC in the Chinese Super League. He is the captain of the team and also very influential with his goals and assists for them, so, if the Super Eagles can keep him quiet, it can destroy the morale of his team mates who look up to him. Benjamin scored Cameroon's equalizer in the 1-1 draw away at Algeria and should be closely monitored by our defenders
Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting
This Hamburg-born Cameroonian international is not your regular type of winger. He stands at 6ft 2in, so his long purposeful stride and preference for his right foot makes him more of an inside forward. He is a very flexible player, comfortable on either flank or through the middle. His work-rate as well is fantastic, he is a very purposeful and powerful dribbler and a composed finisher. He drew the ire of Cameroonians when he chose to stay with his then club, Schalke 04 and refused to take part in the AFCON, which makes his inclusion in this team polarizing for fans. He currently plies his trade in the EPL for Stoke City.
He is just 25 years old, but it seems like he's been around for a long time because he broke into world consciousness as a teenager. He has already been to two World Cups and is hoping to go for a third one in Russia. He has incredible athleticism, often overpowering defenders, but also has the technical ability to match. Intelligent hold up play and neat footwork compliment his natural strength, and he is more than capable in front of goal. Aboubakar has all the attributes of a complete striker, and is a real handful for defenders, his power makes him appear bigger than he is and his strength means that he is an intimidating presence. This is one man that will make sure our defenders earn their keep as he also boasts impressive footwork and can embarrass them with his close control and pacey dribbling if not stuck to like glue.
This 21-year-old shot stopper was named the best goalkeeper at this year's AFCON and has shown that he is going to be around for a long time. He joined Barcelona as a 13-year-old, progressing through the youth system before being promoted to the B team in 2014. It's a testament to his quality then that he's essentially been the Cameroon national number one since his debut in August 2014, having taken over the mantle from Carlos Kameni and he's established himself as a strong communicator, not afraid of bossing around his backline, despite oftentimes being 5 or 6 years younger. He has more than 30 caps for his country and this experience will come in handy for him. He is going to be the last line of defence against the Super Eagles and our strikers must be very ready to deflate his confidence with well-placed and composed finishes.