Three-time African champions, the Super Eagles of Nigeria will tomorrow trade tackles with the Desert Foxes of Algeria at the Cairo International stadium in one of the semi-final matches at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
The Super Eagles on Wednesday kept alive their aspiration for a fourth Africa Cup of Nations title after a convincing 2-1 win over rivals, the Bafana Bafana of South Africa to set up tomorrow’s clash with the north-African giants.
The Desert Foxes on their part edged out hard fighting Elephants of Ivory Coast 4-3 on penalties on Thursday after a pulsating 1-1 draw in regulation time.
Historically, the Super Eagles will be playing their 16th AFCON semi-finals. Their first was on March 11, 1976 against host Morocco. Although they lost 2-1, the then Green Eagles defeated Egypt 3-2 in the third place match for their first AFCON bronze medal.
At the moment, the camp of the Super Eagles is bubbling with undiluted euphoria and confidence but tomorrow’s clash with the Desert Foxes of Algeria will definitely be their toughest fixture as they fight to reach the AFCON finals for the eighth time.
When they first reach the finals in 1980, the then Green Eagles defeated Algeria 3-0 before a capacity crowd at the National stadium Surulere Lagos for their first AFCON title.
The Super Eagles then reached the finals again in 1984, 1988, 1990, 1994, 2000 and 2013 coming out winners in 1994 in Tunisia and 2013 in South Africa.
If the Super Eagles triumph over Algeria, it will be the 8th victory for them in the semis but if it ends in defeat, it would be their 9th semi-final loss in the Africa Cup of Nations.
The two gladiators in tomorrow’s semi-final are familiar football foes having started their AFCON rivalry as far back as 1980 which saw the Super Eagles winning four times, recording a draw and three losses in eight encounters.
Most Nigerian football fans will still recall the victory over the Desert Foxes in the finals of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations when the Super Eagles walloped Algeria 3-0 with two goals from ‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami and a goal from late Muda Lawal for their first AFCON title.
When the Super Eagles met the Desert Foxes in their group match on March 11, 1982 in the AFCON hosted by Libya, Algeria got back their pound of flesh beating Nigeria 2-0.
Their next AFCON tie on March 11, 1984 in Cote d’Ivoire, which was a group B match ended in 0-0 draw but the Super Eagles went all the way to finish as runners up behind the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
However, many Nigerian football fans have continued to rue the mauling of the Super Eagles by Algeria when the North Africans hosted and won the 1990 AFCON.
It will be recalled that the Desert Foxes whipped Super Eagles 5-1 in their opening group match but when they met again in the finals, they could only manage a slim 1-0 victory over Nigeria to win their first AFCON title.
Eleven years after, the Super Eagles and Algeria clashed again, this time in group A of the 2002 AFCON in Mali and Nigeria won 1-0 courtesy of Julius Aghahowa goal.
The last AFCON tie between the two countries was the third place match at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola and the Super Eagles edged the Desert Foxes 1-0 for their seventh AFCON bronze.
Therefore, going by the available AFCON record, the Super Eagles with four victories and a draw in eight encounters have a slight edge over Algeria but going by their performance in the 2019 AFCON, the Desert Foxes also stand a good chance of progressing to the finals.
So far, the North Africans are yet to lose a match in Egypt. They defeated Senegal, Kenya and Tanzania to top group c with nine points. They then walloped Guinea 3-0 in the round of 16 before beating Cote’ d’Ivoire in the quarter-finals to set up tomorrow’s clash with the Super Eagles.
The Desert Foxes also boast of hugely talented and experienced players in captain, Riyad Mahrez, Yacine Brahimi, Sofiane Feghouli, Aissa Mandi and Islam Slimani that should worry any opponent.
After victories over the number one team in Africa, Senegal, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, Algeria have shown they are in Egypt for business.
However, the Super Eagles have also recovered from the Madagascar mishap to prove in words and deeds that they are also title contenders in Egypt.
The Algerian defence will have to contend with the pace of youngsters Samuel Chukwueze, Alex Iwobi and Simon Moses in the attack.
Although the Super Eagles defence may not be impregnable, the midfield anchored on Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo is usually alive to its responsibilities.
And off the field, the Super Eagles are not lacking in motivation as dollars have continued to ‘fall’ on the players for their inspiring performances.
Interestingly, more dollars will be showered on them, if they will score more goals in the must win semi-final clash with Algeria.
According to the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, two of the richest businessmen in Africa, Aliko Dangote and Femi Otedola have each promised to reward each goal scored by the Super Eagles in their remaining matches in Egypt.
While Dangote is said to have promised to reward each goal with a whopping $50,000, business mogul Otedola is said to have promised the Eagles $25,000 per goal.
It will be recalled that when the Super Eagles defeated Cameroon in their Round of 16, they raked as much as N334million from top government officials, sponsors and the football federation.
Consequently, the Super Eagles have everything going for them as far as motivation is concerned but they have a huge task before them in Cairo as the Desert Foxes stand between them and a place in the finals.
The Foxes’ performance of five victories in Egypt in the most convincing fashion is no doubt intimidating but a former Nigerian international, Barnabas Imenger is confident that if the Super Eagles will sustain the present momentum, they would reach their eighth AFCON finals.
He observed that the Super Eagles played their last two matches with greater determination and commitment which he said was lacking when they lost 0-2 to Madagascar in their last group match.
“The match against Algeria is going to be a very tough one for the Super Eagles but if they will sustain the tempo, I believe they will come out victorious.
“We have a good team but the players need to play with more determination. If you want to win a championship like the AFCON, you must have the fighting spirit of a winner.
“It is not possible to stroll to any continental title. So I am calling on the Super Eagles to re-double their efforts on Sunday,” he advised.
The stage is set for the blockbuster between the two giants of African football and Nigerian football fans won’t be contented with anything less than victory over Algeria.
Without doubt, Algeria’s Riyad Mahrez and Nigeria’s teen sensation, Samuel Chukwueze who possess exquisite skills are the players to watch in tomorrow’s epic clash in Cairo.