At the moment, Eagles of Tunisia are sitting on top of the group with two points better than the Super Eagles who trail them with four points and the Eagles of Nigerian who would like to avert the 2005 debacle are waiting for any slip to take over the leadership of the group. Today’s match will therefore test the nerves of the Tunisians who will have to do something extra ordinary to consolidate their position on the table. In as enormous pressure will be on Carthage Eagles, the Eagles of Nigeria too are not insulated against it because they too know what would be the consequences of a defeat.
Even before now, every football pundits knew that Group Two of the final phase of the qualifiers would be a straight fight between Nigeria and Tunisia. What is happening presently is therefore in tune with earlier predictions. The Tunisians started their qualifiers on a promising note with a 2-1 away victory over the Harambee Stars of Kenya on a day the highly rated Super Eagles of Nigeria struggled to play a 0-0 draw with less fancied Mambas of Mozambique in Maputo.
However, the next round of matches took a different dimension because buoyed by exhilarating performances in two international matches which helped a great deal in restoring their lost confidence, the Super Eagles of Nigeria whipped Harambee Stars 3-0 at the Abuja national stadium while the Carthage Eagles this time struggled to beat the Mambas of Mozambique 2-0 at home. Although they were able to pick the maximum points at stake, the Eagles of Tunisia were not so convincing in their performance.
Without undermining the strength of the North Africans, it can be said that if current performance is anything to go by, then the Super Eagles should be able to leave the November stadium in Rades with at least a draw. However, it is only the full ninety minutes that would decide who stays on top of the group.
The Nigerian team with its full complement of players looks good to take on the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia who would be without some of their key players like Issam Jemaa, Lassaad, defender Karim Hagui as well as Yassine Mikari who is serving a suspension. But for Nigerian football fans, there can be nothing as re-assuring as the fact that most of the Super Eagles players who in the past held the nation to ransom at the slight opportunity have all turned new leaves and are now fighting the battles of their lives to play for the country. According to reports, Joseph Yobo and John Utaka had to charter a plane to fly them to Tunis in order to catch up with training. This is unprecedented commitment.
It is such commitment that may compel coach Amodu to tinker with his experimental defence against the Harambee Stars. If this happens, Joseph Yobo will pair with Dele Adeleye in the central defence while the more experienced Taiye Taiwo may take over from Elderson Echijele in the left full back position. If he has recovered fully from the mysterious illness which many attributed to over anxiety, Olubayo Adefemi who impressed against France may be handed the right full back position.
The mid-field may welcome back the prodigal son from Chelsea of England, John Mikel Obi just as the attack may be spear headed by Obinna Nsofor who scored twice against the Harambee Stars to seal victory for Nigeria. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he is not expected to start the encounter from the bench. Support will surely come his way from other attackers like the teen terror from Getafe, Ikechukwu Uche and ‘home boy’Michael Eneramo who plays professional football in Tunisia. The highest goal scorer in the Tunisian league this season should feel at home enough to show his compatriots the way to penetrate the Tunisians defence. Meanwhile, Vincent Enyama has remained consistent between the stick for club and country and therefore deserves to be handed the number one position.
Most importantly, the Super Eagles will not lack the necessary support as Nigerians will be in November 7 Stades Rades in their thousands to give them maximum support. Already the presidential task force on Eagles is said to have made arrangements for a reasonable number of Nigerian supports to be in Tunis for the all important match just as it has put in place incentives that would propel the Eagles to soar high enough.
If the Eagles can win today’s dicey match, they will go on top of the group with qualification ticket in sight. The players themselves know that the only way for them to keep alive the hope of Nigeria making her fourth World Cup appearance is for them to either beat the Carthage Eagles out rightly or leave November 7 Stadium Rades with at worst a draw. More permutations will reveal that even a draw today will be dangerous because Tunisia on a good day can beat the Mambas of Mozambique at away and then come over to Nigeria for a draw which will leave Nigeria with ten points against Tunisia’s eleven. Thus, the Eagles of Nigeria must beat their host today in respective of all obstacles. However, if the match goes the other way round, anybody who would advise the Eagles to start thinking of Brazil 2014 should not be accused of unpatriotism.