12 November 2016

Nigeria/Algeria: Eagles Set to Devour Desert Foxes in Uyo

Photo: This Day
Nigeria's senior soccer team - The Super Eagles

It is said whenever two elephants fight, the grass suffer. Consequently, the lush-green turf of the Godswil Akpabio international stadium in Uyo will suffer as two African giants, the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Desert Foxes of Algeria will do battle in one of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

This is definitely one of the high profile fixtures this weekend as the two teams are among the powerhouses in African football. It is a mouth watering tie because both sides parade some of the best African players who are plying their trade in some of the leading leagues in the world.

Another point worthy of consideration is the fact that while the Super Eagles are looking to consolidate their hold on Group B, having won away against Zambia to top the group, Algeria will fight to win to revive their hope of making it to Russia in 2018.

It will be recalled that when the Eagles triumphed 2-1 in Ndola against the Chipolopolo of Zambia, the Desert Foxes were held to a 1-1 draw at home by the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. Invariably, the result between Algeria and Cameroon favoured Nigeria who are now group leaders.

As it is, the Super Eagles are going into today's match full of hope and confidence. The victory in Ndola has brought so much confidence into the team and the Eagles are brimming with infectious belief in themselves.

Today's match is the 50th World Cup qualifier the Super Eagles are playing at home. They have played 49 out of which they have won 39, drawn seven and lost three. Their first World Cup qualifier at home was against the Black Stars of Ghana on September 10, 1960 and it ended 2-2.

Eagles last World Cup qualifier at home was on November 17, 2015 in the preliminary of the ongoing 2018 World Cup qualification series and it was played against Swaziland at the Adokiye Amiesiemaka stadium Port-Harcourt and it ended 2-0 in favour of the Eagles. Moses Simon and out of favour Eagles defender, Efe Ambrose were the goal scorers.

It is on record that Nigeria and Algeria have faced each other six times in the World Cup qualifiers and the Super Eagles have posted better results. So head to head, Nigeria has won three, drawn 1 and lost two of the six matches played.

Algeria contributed to the failure of the then Green Eagles to qualify for the 1982 World Cup when they beat Nigeria home and away in the qualifiers. Eagles lost 0-2 in Lagos and were beaten 2-1 in the return leg on October 30, 1981.

The Eagles took back their pound of the flesh on their way to their first ever World Cup appearance in 1994 in the USA when they whitewashed the Desert Foxes 4-1 in the first leg and held them to 1-1 draw in the return leg in Algeria.

The next meeting for the African heavy weights was in 2004 when they played the qualifiers for the 2006 World Cup. Again the Super Eagles proved to be the better of the two sides as they won the first leg 1-0 and followed up with a 2-5 hammering of the Algerians in their backyard.

Although the Eagles eventually lost the 2006 World Cup ticket to less fancied Angola, the 2-5 bashing of Algeria went down in history as one of the best away results for Nigeria in their World Cup qualifiers.

And the last match played between Nigeria and Algeria at the senior level was on January 30, 2010 in the Africa Cup of Nations in Angola and the Super Eagles triumphed 1-0 to confirm their supremacy over the Desert Foxes.

Thus, it is an established fact that Nigeria has a better head to head but the current rating of Algeria by FIFA has shown that the North-Africans have moved ahead of the Super Eagles and deserve to be given maximum respect.

Going by the last FIFA ranking, Algeria in 35th place are well ahead of Nigeria who are in 60th place. In Africa, Algeria slipped down to third behind Cote d'ivore and Senegal while the Super Eagles moved up three places from 14thto 11th.

Algeria are ranked higher than Nigeria but going into today's match, the odds favour the Super Eagles who started their campaign on a winning note.

On the other hand, the 1-1 draw played by Algeria against Cameroon set the team in disarray as the coach who prosecuted the match, Milaovan Rajevac was sacked and replaced with Belgian coach, Georges Leekens.

In addition, the camp of the Algerians has been hit by injury crisis as at least four of their key players, Napoli left back, Faouza Ghoulam, Dinamo Zagreb forward, Hilal Soudani, Montepellier attacking midfielder Rayad Boudebouz and Lyon midfielder, Rachid Ghezzai are injured and out of today's crucial tie.

Even their danger man Islam Slimani was sidelined by injury and has just returned to action for Leicester City in the Premiership just as on -loan Schalke 04 midfielder Nabil Bentaleb. So the major challenge for the Desert Foxes is how to cope with the injury concerns.

Meanwhile, the Super Eagles camp is bubbling as apart from number one goalkeeper Carls Ikeme who has been ruled out of the match due to injury, all the listed players are available and ready to face Algeria.

Interestingly, there was prompt response to the camp which opened in Abuja early in the week and training has been intense in line with the magnitude of the encounter.

From all indication, Gernot Rohr is going to stick to the attack that he played in Ndola. The same cannot be said of the defence because everybody saw that the attack was sharp but the defence failed to keep a clean sheet thereby raising suspicion that it might crumble badly when tested by the likes of Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani, Yassin Brahimi, Faouzi Ghoulam and Nabil Bentaleb.

So a lot will depend on the attacking power of in-form Leicester City forward, Ahmed Musa, Odion Ighalo and youngsters, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheancho. The state of readiness of Brown Ideye is not yet clear so Isaac Success looks like the man to take his place. The stars in the English Premier League hold the ace for Nigeria.

Former international Garba Lawal is confident that going by the high spirit in the camp of the Eagles, they will certainly soar high above the Desert Foxes.

He however said it will be a difficult match for the two teams and any momentary loss of concentration will prove costly.

"I tip the Eagles to fly past the Desert Foxes but it won't be a stroll in the park because the Algerians are wounded.

"They drew 1-1 against Cameroon and they now know that defeat against the Eagles will put their ambition in great jeopardy.

"As such, they are going to come out in full force to pick the maximum points.

"I want to advise the Eagles to be careful throughout the match. Any slight mistake will cost them the three points. There should be zero tolerance for errors especially in the defence.

"It will be a tough match but I see Eagles flying high to the satisfaction of Nigerian football fans," he said.

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