NIGERIA VS GUINEA: HISTORY FAVOURS EAGLES
For the Super Eagles today, they face a zero option. They are condemned to beat Guinea and pick an automatic ticket to the 2012 African Nations Cup. The task is simple.
They either beat Guinea by a simple margin of 1-0 or at least double the lead should Guinea put in any goal. That is the straight path to the central African region of Equatorial Guinea and Gabon for the next African premier football competition.
Alternatively, they take a tortuous path of waiting for all matches to be played and hope to be one of the two lucky runners-up. But that looks slim, as the result obtained from the encounters with the last placed team of the group will not count. The last placed team at the moment is Madagascar.
With results from Ethiopia and Guinea, Nigeria is in fifth position among the contending 10 for the two runners-up slots. The results from the barren point from the only tie with Guinea and the four points in the encounters with Ethiopia. But Nigeria's position in the runners-up log will improve if it beats Guinea today (say 2-1) and Madagascar upstages Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. That puts Madagascar in third position and the two victories of Nigeria over it will offer the Super Eagles six points with another three from the possible win over Guinea.
The Syli Nationale may still qualify, even after losing comprehensively to the Super Eagles. It will fare well in the runners-up log. Those are just permutations. But if lessons of history are anything to go bye, Nigeria is highly favoured to qualify today.
First, the day holds special favour for Nigeria. This is the theory of 'October 8 Magic'. The Nigerian national team that made an international debut on October 8, 1949 in a match against Sierra Leone has never lost a game on that date which is today.
Apart from beating Sierra Leone on that maiden international contest, Nigeria qualified for the World Cup for the first time on October 8, 1993 after a 1-1 draw with Algeria in Algiers.
Also on October 8, 1963, Nigeria played 2-2 in a friendly game with Liberia in Monrovia. Another October 8 encounter was in 1977 when Nigeria beat Egypt 4-0 in Lagos in a World Cup qualifier. It remains the biggest defeat of Egypt in any competitive game till date. It was also on October 8 in 2005 that the Super Eagles battered Zimbabwe 5-1 in Abuja.
Last year, FIFA paid 'homage' to the October 8 Magic when on that date, it lifted a ban placed on Nigeria. Should the Super Eagles succeed today, the strong aura of October 8 will further gain strength.
Beyond the importance of the day, the encounter with Guinea holds a special attraction. It was over Guinea that Nigeria got its first qualification for the African Nations Cup in 1963. After a 2-2 draw in Lagos, the Guineans won the return leg played on October 6, 1963 by 1-0. The match was awarded to Nigeria on technical grounds following the absence of the centre referee originally designated to handle the match.
Instead of the Guineans requesting for a neutral referee from a neighbouring country, or alternatively allow the accompany referee of the visiting team to officiate, they employed their national in contravention of competition rules. The result was overturned.
Yobo will have a yeoman's job at hand to marshal his men. He has everything to play for. There is honour. He made his Nigerian debut in an African Nations Cup qualifier as far back as March 24, 2001 when Super Eagles played Zambia in Chingola. Ever since, he has become Nigeria's most capped African Nations' Cup player. Until the injury he picked in the second group game against Benin last year in Angola, Yobo had played every match and every minute of Nigeria's preceding 22 African Nations Cup match since Mali 2002.
Looking at past encounters of Nigeria and Guinea, today's encounter should be a tiebreaker. Both have met 13 times in the past and honours have been even. Each had won four times each and drew five times. But the odds favour Nigeria on account of superior goals.