By Andah John
Nigeria and Algeria are set to rekindled their rivalry as both countries go toe-to-toe in Saturday’s Group B Russia 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier in Uyo.
The group currently begins with Nigeria and ends with Zambia, with Cameroon and Algeria trailing the Eagles, in-between.
While Nigeria are seeking their second win, the North Africans will hope to get their campaign back on track after a 1-1 draw at home with Cameroon. And with only one side earning a spot in Vladimir Putin’s country, there’s little margin for error.
Gernot Rohr will expect his charges to consolidate on their impressive 2-1 win at Zambia in October.
And with the impressive form of Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi of Arsenal, and Chelsea’s Victor Moses, the German couldn’t have been more confident of his side’s chances against the Desert Warriors.
“I try to see a lot of young players. Our team is a mixture of young players and the experienced. We expect victory.
“We want to win this game. Our stars are humble. They are good examples for the young players. They are in good mind. They will be efficient on Saturday,’’ Rohr told reporters in Uyo on Thursday.
Captain of the side John Obi Mikel may not be in the plans of Antonio Conte at Chelsea, but he still has an instrumental role to play in Rohr’s Eagles. Alongside Ogenyi Onazi in front of the defence, the Super Eagles have a mix of steel, calmness, and flair. Both players expect a tough game but believe the Eagles have enough in their arsenal to fly past the Algerians.
“The Algerians are a very good side; we have a task to win the match,’’ Mikel said. And Onazi thinks similarly, but he seeks God’s grace. “We know the task ahead, we ask God for the grace to go forward and get the three points,’’ Ogenyi said.
Up front is where Nigeria’s strength lies. Iheanacho has grown into a key component of the Super Eagles. The Manchester City starlet has scored four goals in his last six games for the senior national team. One of them came against Zambia, a brilliant finish it was. With his brilliant technique and mental skills, he should be positioned behind the centre forward. That is where he can create chances for himself and the others in the final third. And one of the others is certainly the Arsenal youth sensation.
Iwobi is a big asset of the Eagles. He has the pace. He also has the composure. He knows how to link up in the final third, nicely. And his intricate movement should give defenders a lot to worry about.
Speaking of a lot to worry about, the Eagles’ defence has given Nigerians little or no confidence. This is where they feel Algeria can explore. But with the return of Mainz centre-back Leon Balogun, maybe the three-time African champions can hold their own against the deadly Algerian attackers.
Algeria in Nigeria to win
Georges Leekins is reputed for moulding a watertight-defensive setup, while hitting on the break.
Key players to look out for are Leicester City duo of Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani; FC Porto’s Yacine Brahimi, Sofiane Feghouli of West Ham United, and Schalke 04’s Nabil Betaleb. With their guile, solidity and flair, they form the linchpin of the Fennec Foxes.
With Mahrez and Slimani combining upfront, every Algeria faithful should be hopeful of a result in Nigeria’s south-south region. But they are up against a side they have lost to in their last four meetings.
Meanwhile, President of the Federation Algerienne de Football Mohamed Raouraoua has charged the Desert Foxes to beat the Super Eagles in Uyo.
“You have a duty to come back with a positive result from the match against Nigeria. It is mandatory. We must win there,” Raouraoua told the players.
“All the Algerian people are behind you. They support you and hope for a good result in Nigeria. We must not disappoint, it’s all I can say,” added the Algerian FF president.
“The World Cup is an important event that should not be missed. You should know that everyone is behind you.”
There have been 17 clashes between both teams (all at competitive level), with Nigeria winning eight times, drawing three and losing six.
Algeria qualified for their first World Cup in 1982 after beating Nigeria. The West Africans achieved the same feat in 1993 after overcoming the North Africans.
Both countries also won their first Africa Nations Cup titles against each other. The then Green Eagles trounced Algeria 3-0 in 1980, while the Algerians returned the favour ten years later with a 1-0 win. And ironically, both nations won their titles on home soil.