Cameroon’s victory at the just concluded Africa Cup of Nations has thrown up a fresh look at how things may pan out in Group B of the World Cup qualifiers.
The Super Eagles and Indomitable Lions will play back-to-back games against each other on August 28 and September 2, 2017, when the qualifiers resume late in the year.
Prior to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, Cameroon was sitting second in the group with two points from two games. The Lions drew 1-1 with Algeria before being held 1-1 at home by the Chipolopolo of Zambia.
It all looked dire for Cameroon and things were set for Nigeria, considering the Super Eagles topped the group with maximum points from two games having beaten Zambia 2-1 in Ndola and defeated Algeria 3-1 in Uyo. That's until Gabon came and we saw the new Cameroon. Suddenly things don’t look that straightforward from a distance.
Hugo Broos was able to assemble a relatively new team to the 2017 Afcon tournament after seven key players withdrew from the squad.
The Belgian went about his business and even though the team didn’t click from the onset, the knock-out stages were where they served notice of how strong and compact a squad they are.
There was no star player in the team, their hard work, dedication and fitness saw them fight past Senegal, Ghana and Egypt in the final.
In retrospect, Cameroon wasn't flamboyant in victory neither did they look like a tournament-winning side but their grit and endeavour has proved that with determination and a great bond anything is possible.
That is the Cameroon we saw at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The World Cup qualifiers are an entirely different kettle of fish. Even though the stakes will be high, the dynamics will be totally different.
But like a double edged sword, Cameroon’s new found status can also be a bone in the neck in the grand scheme of things.
TO FORGIVE OR NOT?
It is not yet known if Broos will forgive the renegade players and bring them back into the fold or continue his journey with the squad that brought him glory in Gabon.
Cameroon will be stronger if the likes of Matip, Nyom and Choupo-Moting are recalled but it can also cause rancour within their ranks as certain players might feel unappreciated after giving their all at the Africa Cup of Nations
Being African champions brings its own pressure, the pressure to succeed and keep the momentum going, the pressure of keeping to the expectations of the tag of champions.
As Egypt (2004, 2006 and 2008) and Zambia (2012) can testify, being African champions comes with a huge weight of expectation and nothing is a given.
Winning the Africa Cup of Nations does not guarantee World Cup qualification. The intricacies involved and the dynamics make it a whole different scenario.
The World Cup qualifiers bring their own drama and Nigeria will be looking to edge ahead and wrap up the group with a win against the new champions.
SECOND HALF IS CRUCIAL
One thing is a given, the Super Eagles will have to be at their physical and mental best against Cameroon. The Lions have shown they can run and run at you non-stop. Each team they faced in Gabon was not able to keep up with them in the second half, Ghana and Egypt being perfect examples.
Their physicality and energy were some of the reasons they beat Ghana and Egypt at the Nations Cup. Cameroon won’t abandon that approach against Nigeria.
They will try to tire and outrun the Super Eagles in Uyo. How Nigeria respond will determine where the pendulum will swing on game day.
The Super Eagles will have to be at their optimal best if they hope to get anything out of the Cameroon game.
Luckily, Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr was in Gabon on punditry duties and would have seen a lot of the Cameroon side to give him pointers on how best to beat the central Africans.