Sports

Between The Eagle And The Lion – Who Wins Tonight? –Odegbami

The stage is set for ‘War’. Between Nigeria’s Super Eagles and the AFCON Gold trophy of 2023 stands an old formidable foe.

They respect Nigerian players, but not Nigerian football.

They always think the football in their country is of a better brand than Nigeria’s. What bothers them is that they cannot understand why the statistics of matches between the two neighbouring countries are heavily in favour of Nigeria, although at AFCON the ‘scores’ are even, 3-3.

The Indomitable Lions must fall tonight in Abidjan for the Super Eagles of Nigeria to glean better the realisation of my assertion since before AFCON 2023 began, that this is an edition specially designed by the Elements for the Eagles to win it. They have Cameroon as a hurdle to climb over to achieve ultimate success.

Abidjan is set for that ‘War’, a neutral battleground for the two teams. Except for Victor Osimhen, neither team boasts of truly outstanding stars coming to the championship. Even Victor is still trying to find his feet and cope with the huge responsibility that comes with the tag of Africa’s current best player. He has not justified it yet at the AFCON.

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Both teams have been unconvincing in their games so far. They both need to win this do-or-die encounter in order to earn respect and sustain their reputation and exalted place in African football despite the current surge of ambitious new entrants into the club of ‘giants’.

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The good news from the Eagles’ camp is that all the players are now fully fit. Injured ones have fully recovered and the psychological burden of being halted at the group stage has been lifted off their shoulders.

Fortunately for Jose Paseiro, a classic Cameroon/Nigeria match has little to do with a coach’s input and any coaching for that matter. Both teams know this. They are usually psychologically so pumped up that the matches often are brutally physical battles. The players get their motivation, determination, and strategy from the energy the match generates. This match tonight will not be an exception.

This could very easily be the best match both teams will play at AFCON because of the acute rivalry involved., but in the end, only one will survive. I will not be surprised if the match is settled with penalty kicks.

It will be interesting though to find out what Jose Paseiro’s first team will look like with all his players now fit and available. So far, he has shuffled players around and left no one with any clear idea who will make his first team.

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Osimhen will be tested to the limit!

Victor Osimhen does not have a history of great performances at AFCON. This is his third visit and it has been difficult for him to find his feet, even though he is working very hard in every game.

The match tonight, in my estimation, will test him to the limit. It will show his mental strength – how he manages the pressures he faces in not living up to his pre-tournament reputation; his ranking as the best player in the continent; and the player most relied on by his nation to deliver AFCON 2023.

It is not going to be easy for him, and will even get more difficult against Cameroon, a very physical, hard tackling, and endlessly running team, with ‘intimidation’ as its basic tactic. He has to win for the Super Eagles despite the hurdles.

The Elephants are resurrected

The Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire suffered the heaviest defeat by a host team in the history of AFCON. They were dead and buried as far as the average Ivorian was concerned after their match against Equatorial Guinea. The national team and its coach were a disgrace. So, they sacked the coach and beat up the players in public.

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Then, miraculously, the results of matches from other groups threw them a lifeline. They are back in the championship as one of the 4 lucky losers.

It took everyone by surprise, and the whole country exploded in celebration that only lasted till they found out who they would be meeting next – Senegal.

The reality of their present situation now stares them in the face. What happens now? What are their chances as they face the best team in the group stage on Sunday?

They have no coach. The players are dispirited and frustrated, with a slim and near-impossible task of defeating Senegal and restoring everything they have lost.

I would never want to play against such a team. That’s the dilemma Senegal now face.

I cannot wait to find out how this turns out, but I will also not be shocked or surprised if this marks the end of….Senegal at AFCON 2023. Remember the words from William Congreve’s play, The Mourning Bride: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’.

Cote D’Ivoire have nothing to lose anymore. They are angry. And they stand to gain the whole world should they prove everyone wrong, take on Senegal, and win!

Senegal are in trouble. They could lose this match.

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