Early on Friday, a photo appeared on the social media among Nigerians. It showed some bubbly drinks specially branded with the insignia of Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). They was unmistakably arranged ahead of the October 7 FIFA World Cup qualifiers match between Nigeria and Zambia. And it is somewhat embarrassing that such plans are already out in the open even before the two teams step into the field. A win for Nigeria would give it the ticket to the Mundial billed for Russia in 2018.
But what are the odds for Nigeria qualifying, either on Saturday and popping the champagnes or doing so on the last day of the qualifiers in November? The table below provides a guide.
TEAMS MP W D L GF GA +/- Pts
NIGERIA 4 3 1 0 10 3 7 10
ZAMBIA 4 2 1 1 6 4 2 7
CAMEROON 4 0 3 1 3 7 -4 3
ALGERIA 4 0 1 3 3 8 -5 1
After raising the hopes of their fans by comprehensively beating the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon 4-0 in Uyo last month, the Super Eagles failed to complete the routing three days later in Yaoundé. In a game they dominated and shot ahead early, the Eagles slipped and conceded an unnecessary penalty that gave their hosts a face-saving equaliser to bring the game to a 1-1 draw.
Had the Eagles won the game, they would have picked their ticket to Russia quite early and freed their teeming fans the palpitation that their hearts are going through this weekend.
After that draw, I had permutated that if Zambia pulls an offset against Algeria in Algeria, that would create an interesting scenario. And win, Zambia did, effectively bundling Algeria out of the road to Russia, just as Nigeria had done to Cameroon. That now makes this Saturday cracker in Uyo a ‘do-or-die’ match.
All that the Super Eagles need to do to end the permutation is to win the match and raise their total points to 13, an unassailable position and render every other game in the group mere academic exercise. And there is no reason why the team should not as they play inside the ‘Nest of Champions’, the beautiful football cathedral in Uyo, the capital city of Akwa Ibom State.
In fact, the stadium and the state have witnessed many celebrations of late. On September 23, it played host to the state and its friends as they marked the 30th anniversary of the state’s creation, even ahead of Nigeria’s 57th Independence anniversary marked on October 1.
So, would we be seeing a third consecutive weekend of revelling in the city? It would all come down to what the Nigerian Super Eagles and the Chipolopolo of Zambia end up doing in the field after 90 minutes. It would not even depend on the fact that Nigeria’s football authorities have already procured specially branded drinks to pop after the game, a fact which ought ordinarily to be kept under wraps, but for some flippant staff within their ranks who may have leaked the idea via photos on social media on Friday.
This being football however, we must look at all three possibilities – win, draw or loss. As already stated, a win for Nigeria will bring everything to a close. But what if Zambia pulls an away win, as they did in Algeria last month, even though they lost at home in their first game to the same Nigeria? Should they win, they would level up with Nigeria at 10 points. Nigeria would still be ahead of Zambia by goals difference which currently stands at seven for Nigeria and two for Zambia, thus five goals between both teams, Should Zambian win by a wide margin of three goals on Saturday, they would however replace Nigeria as group leaders.
In the unlikely possibility of a Zambian win, Nigerian fans would be forced to return to the days of using calculators to find out the chances of their team. They would pray not to lose in their final game away to Algeria and at the same time would have to beg their eastern neighbours, Cameroon not to lose away to Zambia. It is a situation most Nigerians don’t look forward to.
There is also a possibility of a draw in Saturday’s cracker. That would place Nigeria on 11 points and Zambia on eight and still keep the final answer to who wins the group to November 6 in Algiers and Lusaka.
Then, Nigeria would need just a draw to qualify but if they lose, they would still pray that Zambia do not do to Cameroon, what they, the Super Eagles did to the Indomitable Lions last month in Uyo by beating them with a wide margin. Such wide margin could beef up the goals difference of the Zambians in a manner that could make them surpass that of Nigeria, depending also on the number of goals deficits Nigeria would have conceded in this Saturday’s match and their last game against Algeria.
There is however the ‘head-to-head’ rule in football whereby if two teams are at par on points, the deciding factor would be the goals scored by each team against the other prior to then. This rule would count ahead of the goals difference. On this account, Nigeria would still come tops against Zambia, should today’s match end in a draw. This is because Nigeria had earlier defeated Zambia in the first game right in Lusaka.
As a Nigerian, a passionate supporter of Super Eagles for that, I can safely say that all the above are mere permutations, on paper. I truly expect the Super Eagles to pick their tickets to Russia this Saturday in Uyo. And Nigerians will pop champagnes, or simply pop something, anything across the country and in different parts of the world the proud citizens of the largest black nation are found. And this couldn’t have come at a better time than now, when the feelings of patriotism and nationalism from the country’s 57th Independence Anniversary are still upswing.