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BY DESMOND EKWUEME
Football is no mathematics. The defeat Zambia’s Chipolopolo suffered in the hands of Super Eagles in Ndola in the opening fixture of the Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier is no guarantee that the Uyo tie will be a stroll in the park for the Gernot Rohr tutored side. Ironically, fans of the Super Eagles are banking on that result to determine the outcome of this weekend’s fixture which has been roundly tagged make or mar for both teams.
The resurgence of Chipolopolo towards the end of this qualification campaign with the stunning away victory against Algeria coupled with a decent result against Cameroun should be a source of worry to their opponents in the remaining two games which includes the Uyo tie. Zambia have proven that they have the capacity to avenge the defeat in Ndola here in Uyo. They understand that a win in Uyo is all they need to push for the ticket to Russia. They know that the Super Eagles have been inconsistent at home. Losing 2-0 to Bafana Bafana in an AFCON qualifier and turning around few weeks later to demolish Indomitable Lions of Cameroun in the same venue in the race to Russia, Super Eagles look suspect at home and this is one disadvantage Zambia may want to exploit in this winner takes all fixture.
The Zambians have been in full flight preparing for this win or bust encounter. They planned a trip to Europe on a training tour and they were in neighbouring Ghana days back. The team has never been this motivated since the commemcement of this campaign. It does appear they are seeing this chance cum campaign as their best ever. They are convinced that a dogged fight in Uyo could be all they need to be in Russia. Psychologically, they believe that all teams are beatable even at home. They are spurred by the fact that they have an axe to grind with Nigeria.
That axe remains the memory of the Tunisia ‘94 AFCON final where they lost to Super Eagles. That defeat was too painful to the average Zambian. Painful in two aspects. First, a trophy was at stake and a superior Super Eagles squad stole it from them. It was a matter of a bigger, better and stronger team trumping the “minnows”. Secondly, it was painful because it reminded Zambia of the loss of a whole generation of stars in that ill-fated plane crash. The thinking of an average Zambian football fan was that, Super Eagles won’t have been able to defeat the then KK 11 if they had not lost their very best crop of players in that air disaster.
All these may be in the past but sure Zambians are in a war mood and will need these memories to boost their moral and fan the embers of Super Eagles fall in Uyo.
However, judging from the squad assembled by Rohr for this assignment and the commitment of the individual players, it does appear Zambia may be in for a hot treatment in Eagles nest in Uyo. The Cathedral as some fans would love to refer to Uyo has revived the magic of the Super Eagles. The team rediscovered it’s winning streak after that bitter pill of defeat forced down its throat by South Africa. Uyo is now a demolishing ground of some sort for Eagles.
The blend of experienced senior players like Skipper John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses, Ogenyi Onazi, Odion Ighalo, Elderson Echiejile and Ahmed Musa with young and enterprising players like Ogenekaro Etebo, Willifred Ndidi, Leon Balogun, Troost Ekong, Kelechi Iheanacho and Moses Simon among others has rebuilt a new spirit in the squad. The confidence level is on the high. The battle for shirts fierce…..even as new faces like England-baeed Ola Aina is itching to get into the groove. The Eagles are more motivated by the fact that they are yet to taste defeat in this campaign. This alone could be the catalyst of and for the massacre of Chipolopolo in Uyo.
Still talking motivation, the Eagles know that they have their job cut out…..beat Zambia and land in Russia. There couldn’t have been a better motivation than this. It is like suggesting to them that they have just 90 minutes to glory…..and what an opportunity and advantage they have playing this crucial game at home with thousands of their fans behind them routing for victory.
For the young players in the team, going to the World Cup and possibly featuring in the tournament couldn’t have come at a better time than this in their blossoming careers. And for the senior players, it is better to quit on a high at the biggest stage of the sport -the World Cup . Together, the senior and younger players understand that Russia 2018 is an opportunity, a rare privilege and a necessity in their careers. They just have to kill this game. They need to cut Chipolopolo to size. They need to confirm the flight to Russia here in Uyo.
Yes, no two games are same but with the motivation of beating Zambia in Ndola and the dream of featuring at the World Cup playing up in their minds Eagles should be ruthless in Uyo to prove that the result of the Matchday 1 fixture was no fluke.
Like captain Mikel Obi puts it, “we are approaching this game with the mindset of grabbing the ticket to the World Cup. We know our opponents have similar feelings….we have to pull everything within our reach together to pick the three points. We are in a war mood now.”
Since Super Eagles have declared war against Chipolopolo, the fans of the team can only say, “let the war begin…..give us Russia 2018 World Cup ticket.”
Desmond EKWUEME is an ardent fan of “Massive Attack” and a Lagos based journalist.
• Till next week, keep attacking