Nigeria and Zambia have played 17 times in the past – Nigeria with seven victories to Zambia’s five. There have been five draws. Their 18th encounter, scheduled for the Akwa Ibom Stadium in Uyo on Saturday, is delicately poised with both countries very wary of making mistakes.
Even though Nigeria’s Super Eagles have the advantage — both home and points tally, Zambia’s Chipolopolo have shown in their last two matches that they have not given up hope of snagging the sole ticket in Group B to qualify for their first-ever FIFA World Cup.
This upcoming duel can accurately be categorised as a six-pointer and though the Eagles hold the edge – many things can go wrong.
So, in order to guide against the things that can go wrong, here are five nuggets for Gernot Rohr.
Don’t throw caution away
Yes, the Super Eagles need a win but a draw would not be the end of the world. I know some people are already wondering where this is going – all I am advising is caution must not be thrown to the winds. We all remember Samson Siasia’s debacle when his team chased a win against Guinea in 2011 in a Nations Cup qualifier, instead of settling for a draw – we all know how that ended.
Rohr should not make the mistake – if the strategy does not pan out as envisaged and the goals don’t materialise, please settle for the one point.
Use a very mobile central striker
Odion Ighalo surprised many with his movement and speed against Cameroon. He engaged the central defenders in personal duels that yielded the strategic results. He would need more of the same against Zambia’s central defenders – Stoppilla Sunzu and Ziyo Tembo. Sunzu is very dominant in the air but both defenders are not very mobile and do not like to be dragged away from their central defending areas.
Invest in more ball possession
Against Cameroon over two legs, the Eagles boasted less possession than their opponents. Yes, the Lions needed to win and played on the front foot in the two legs, a scenario that should mirror Zambia’s present predicament because they need all three points to stand any chance of getting to Russia. The Eagles have to understand they are stronger with the ball and the Zambians chasing and weakening would ultimately work to the Eagles’ advantage.
Pray Moses2 are at their best
Thankfully Antonio Conte gave Victor Moses a deserved rest even though Chelsea eventually lost 1-0 to Manchester City at Stamford Bridge – a second home loss without the influential Nigerian. Moses had played three matches in seven days and was likely going to get injured if not rested. For the other Moses, Simon, he played 76 minutes for Gent in their 2-1 away loss to Club Brugge. If this two sparkle from the flanks, the Chipolopolo will be biting bullets.
Hope for a strong referee
Recent happenings have shone the spotlight on referees, especially African ones even though in Botswana’s Joshua Bondo. In the last round of qualifiers, he was at the centre of the 0-0 result between Senegal and Burkina Faso. If he shows strong character on Saturday, the Eagles can play and taunt the more physically inclined Zambians to make rash tackles. In their two matches against Algeria, the Chipolopolo committed over 40 fouls and they will be doubly aggressive in Uyo – that is a surety!
All said and done, Rohr must get his tactics and personnel right on Saturday to ensure Nigeria keeps her edge over Zambia. Even though Zambia assistant captain, Tembo says they are not inferior to Nigeria, “We’re not inferior to Nigeria, the only difference is that most of our players play in Africa and theirs play in Europe”. All we ask of from the Eagles on Saturday is a positive result and Russia 2018 – here we come!
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