Desperation may be the key word as two of the foremost African top football teams clash in back-to-back encounters. Desperation is the apt word because both sides are trying to regain their esteem and had gone almost through similar sour circumstances.
The Pharaohs of Egypt are record seven-times African Nations Cup holders. The Super Eagles are record seven times third-place finishers. If you combine Nigeria’s four-time runners-up position and the three times winners’ standing, you also get the magic number seven.
Since 2011, both teams are under their third handlers, pointing to the instability in fortunes that Nigeria and Egypt have been experiencing.
While Egypt boasts of having the honour of producing the first man to win the Africa Nations Cup as player and later as coach, courtesy Mahmoud El Gohary, Nigeria promptly fired back with similar feat posted by Stephen Keshi in 2013.
Now the two teams that have experienced more of tribulations than victories in the past three years are on trial.
In the past three editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, the record holders have been glaring absentees. The Pharaohs joined Nigeria as champions that failed to defend crown as Egypt failed to qualify for the next edition after the victory of 2010.
Similarly, Nigeria did not defend title in 1996 following politically motivated boycott and also failed to qualify for the 2015 edition after winning the preceding 2013 championship.
The Pharaohs of Egypt have missed out in the last three editions. The Super Eagles missed two of the last three tournaments thus almost making the two desperate teams to look as if they have soul ties.
Both teams in Group G of the qualifiers are undoubtedly the favourites, but only one will get an outright qualification ticket. The second will have to contend with 12 other similarly placed teams to contest for one of three available slots.
As it is ahead of Friday’s first clash in Kaduna, it is advantage Egypt which leads the pack with two points and seven goal advantage ahead of Nigeria. The Eagles have no alternative other than an outright win, at least to take leadership of the group before the next clash in Alexandria.
The target for Nigeria should be to take the maximum points at home and get an additional one in Alexandria four days later.
Taking advantage is the key word. Playing at home, the Super Eagles need to maximise their potentials. It is the lack of this that had caused the side trailing the equally desperate Egyptians.
While Nigeria laboured to a 2-0 win at home with Chad last year, Egypt unleashed their weapons of mass destruction on that same team getting a comfortable and lead assuring 5-1 away win. Also, while Nigeria played an uninspiring goalless away match with Tanzania, Egypt pummelled the same team 3-0 in Alexandria.
Should Egypt therefore get even a point in Kaduna on Friday, Nigeria may have to trail the group leaders till the end of the qualifying series.
PHARAOHS, LET MY PEOPLE GO!
In the Bible, Moses and Aaron played active roles in liberating God’s children from Pharaoh. We read that God told Moses to tell Pharaoh: “let my people go”. Samson in the Bible was a powerful man. All the above characters have been brought out by Nigeria in the battle against the Pharaohs of Egypt.
Egypt will most likely wear red shirts, symbolising the “Red Sea” Moses Simon, Victor Moses and the rest will have to cross.
The powerful Samson (Siasia) is now the commander-in-chief of the Super Eagles. In the Book of Judges, we read about the exploits of powerful Samson who performed Herculean tasks.
The only difference with the Biblical Samson is the quantity of hairs on the head. Our own Samson is the modern one. He can still perform exploits, even with no hair strand. But then, we read that when the Biblical Samson’s head was shaved like that of our Samson, he had enough strength to kill his enemies.
Samson has come on a rescue mission. In his army are two Moses (Victor Moses and Moses Simon). Their task is a simple one – Tell the Pharaohs: “Let my people go to the Africa Nations Cup”.
ODDS FAVOUR SUPER EAGLES
For decades, Egypt has always found Nigeria a hard nut to crack in Nigeria at national team level. This dates back to 1960 when Egypt-related team last beat Nigeria at home.
First, it was a 6-2 drubbing at home in a Rome Olympic Games qualifier in Lagos. The second one was a 2-1 defeat in a friendly encounter in Lagos on November 29, 1960. But on both instances, it was not Egypt that beat Nigeria.
It was the “allied forces’. The team Nigeria met then was the United Arab Republic which was a short-lived political union between Egypt and Syria. The union began in 1958 and existed until 1961, when Syria seceded from the union after the 1961 Syrian coup d’état.
Ever since, Nigeria mauled Egypt almost on every encounter at home. The first was the 4-2 defeat in the semi final of the football event of the 1973 All Africa Games in Lagos.
The next being the now very familiar 4-0 massacre of Egypt by the Segun Odegbami inspired Green Eagles. Until the October 15, 2013 match when Ghana beat Egypt 6-1, the 4-0 defeat by Nigeria was the heaviest defeat Egypt suffered in the World Cup qualifying series.
The two times Egypt escaped massacre in Nigeria were the drawn friendly ties of 1983.
Both Nigeria and Egypt have never met at U-17 level in Nigeria. But at the U-20 level, Nigeria inflicted another 4-0 defeat on Egypt in Lagos on November 8, 1987. At U-23 level, on the road to Atlanta ’96, Nigeria beat Egypt 3-2 in Lagos. Before then, an Emmanuel Amuneke inspired U-23 side had beaten Egypt 2-1 in the opening match of the Cairo ’91 All Africa Games.
It was Amuneke’s splendid performance at the tournament that made Zamalek to sign him. He later became the last Africa-based winner of the annual CAF Footballer of the Year in 1994. Now assisting Samson Siasia at the Eagles’ camp, he is set to break the Egyptian hearts again.
Siasia has an unfinished task to accomplish when he leads the Super Eagles to meet Egypt. Even though his team became victorious at Senegal 2015 U-23 tournament, the Egyptians proved hard nuts to crack. The encounter ended 2-2. It’s time to beat the unbeaten.
DREAM TEAM PREMIÈRES 2016 NIKE SHIRTS
Even though Nike’s launch of multiple similar national team kits appeared not well received globally leading to cancellation of an earlier proposed launching of Brazil kits last Thursday, Nigerians may wait till after the Olympics before the Super Eagles will don the new shirts.
A reliable source informed that Samson Siasia boys at the Rio Olympics will be the first to appear in the 2016 version of the Nike shirts.
Some national teams’ shirts designed by Jack Henderson were launched last Thursday. They included those of England, France and USA. That of Brazil slated for the same day was reportedly cancelled owing to politically motivated demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro.
Meanwhile, fans in England and the US seemed not to appreciate the new Nike kit template. The England attire is made of white shirt and shorts with blue trim, grey-blue sleeves and shoulders as well as red socks. The red away kit carries the same design but with blue socks, and dark red sleeves and shoulders. The FA in England reportedly sees the red away shirt as a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of England’s 1966 World Cup win.
Sadly, it is also a reminder of how long the so-called home of the modern game has won a major trophy. In the case of Nigeria, which new Nike home shirt I exclusively revealed last week, most people who responded on the social media appear to like the design. For instance, Moshood Abdsalam Abiola remarks: “I think I love it. I hope the one that will come in dominant white will be as well beautiful”.
Johnny Joseph also remarked: “To tell the truth… This jersey is better than the current one we use at CHAN even without a logo… What was NFF thinking when they got such and still went ahead to give them to our players to wear and look like players from the poorest country…”