By Desmond EKWUEME
Super Eagles will take on hosts Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire in Sunday’s final of the AFCON tournament.
It’s not going to be the normal or usual setting which Super Eagles have seen or experienced since the beginning of this tournament. It’s the final. It’s against the host nation. It’s against Cote d’Ivoire.
This writer remembers the story of the White Witch Doctor Philippe Troussier who handled the Ivoriens at some points and equally managed Super Eagles at separate time. This isn’t about creating fear or whipping up sentiment. We all know the truth about our opponents.
This is an Ivorien side that didn’t give themselves any chance of reaching the final. But somehow here they are. They will go to any length and sacrifice anything to lift the trophy. Here is a team that sacked it’s coach. It’s Emerse Fae the assistant coach and ex-international that has brought them this far.
Indeed, this final for the Ivoriens will be a different ball game compared to how they wobbled and fumbled to the final. Now that they have gotten to this point, they won’t let go.
The atmosphere will be charged. The host team will enjoy the full support of their fans. It’s going to be Super Eagles against the 12th and 13th players who are the teeming Ivorien fans who will storm the stadium to cheer their team and perhaps the centre referee.
Yes, Equatorial Guinea beat Cote d’Ivoire 4-0 in the group stage. No one has beaten them again or with that margin in this tournament. Therefore, no one should expect Super Eagles to rundown the Elephants.
Super Eagles should pray there is no 13th player which is the centre referee. If the match official decides to be “an Ivorien” on Sunday then, Eagles must roll up their sleeves to get into the trenches and grind out something extraordinary to win.
The fans won’t be friendly and it is expected that the match officials may be biased. Super Eagles must avoid unnecessary tackles in the penalty box. Late and costly tackles like we saw from William Troost-Ekong and Alhassan Yusuf must be avoided.
Eagles must try to score goals that should not be borne from goal mouth melee to avoid the controversy of VAR. Some goals cannot be disputed or disallowed. Such are goals Eagles must score.
Eagles must be tactically discipline. Cheap falls should be avoided. Some may be taken for dives and the referee may issue cards. Red cards should be avoided. Don’t expect the match officials to be friendly or to favour you in their decisions.
The Ivoriens will come with all manners of behaviours on and off the pitch. They will want Super Eagles to react and it could be costly. They will taunt Eagles. Spit on you, shove you, insult or abuse you. Just hold your peace for 90 minutes.
Off the pitch, Super Eagles managers and indeed the NFF should watch the food the players eat, the water they drink and possibly their camp or hotel…talking about where they sleep.
This is the final. The host nation will put everything within their powers to win. They don’t know the next time they will get this far. It is a battle that must be fought from all fronts.
Best of luck guys!!!