By Nurudeen Obalola:
After having done the hard part, the Super Eagles now have to do the really hard part to secure a ticket to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
From now on in, it’s a tough, rough road to Russia. The good news is it is not an impassable road.
That victory in Ndola over a plucky Zambia side was the first utterly important step.
My take in discussions with friends, colleagues and on social media before the Zambia game was that the Super Eagles had to win. No excuses.
Even with Nigeria’s sometimes dodgy away form in qualifiers, some of us knew that the three points in Zambia were extremely key. Even a draw would have felt like a defeat, while a loss was out of the question.
The general idea is that Zambia are the weakest team in a group of African giants Nigeria, Algeria and Cameroon. So if you do not get six points from Zambia, one of your rivals will likely do it.
Besides, Nigeria could not afford to play catch-up against such accomplished foes.
Cameroon have qualified for five of the last six World Cups from 1990, missing only the 2006 finals, while Algeria were at the last two, even giving eventual champions Germany a tough time at Brazil 2014.
When you are up against teams like these, you do not drop points against the so-called weakest side. If you do, you pay for it one way or the other.
So, now that the Eagles have got Zambia out of the way, they have to ensure all the good work in Ndola does not go to waste.
Fortunately, Algeria and Cameroon shared the points in Blida, making the path just that little bit more bearable for the Super Eagles.
Now, it is the home form that will take the Super Eagles to Russia.
The arithmetic is so simple, it is almost too good to be true. If the Eagles win ALL their home games, they are almost guaranteed a spot in Russia. That’s how simple it is.
With the three points from the Zambia game added to the nine points if the Eagles do win their three home games, they would have an almost unassailable 12 points.
They might not need to get any points from their trips to Algeria and Cameroon.
Here’s how it works.
Nigeria would have dropped six points if they end up winning their home games and lose their remaining away games.
So, the other three teams must all drop at least seven points each for the Eagles to go through in this scenario.
As things stand, Cameroon and Algeria have both dropped two points already; Zambia have dropped three.
If Nigeria beat all three at home, that’s three more points dropped for each of them.
That would leave Cameroon and Algeria already dropping five points and Zambia dropping six. Zambia would already be out of reckoning on head-to-head with Nigeria, while one of Cameroon and Algeria would have to win all their four other games to upstage Nigeria.
If Cameroon and Algeria drop any other points after this scenario, the Eagles would be flying to Russia. And Algeria will still visit Cameroon, where one or both teams will drop points.
To be clear, Cameroon must beat Zambia home and away, then beat both Algeria and Nigeria in Cameroon for the Lions to roar to Russia, if the Nigeria winning all home games scenario plays out.
Algeria too would have to beat Cameroon away and Zambia away, plus Nigeria and Zambia in Algeria.
During these qualifiers more than ever, the Super Eagles need to take full advantage of playing before their home fans to all but guarantee a slot in Russia.
They simply MUST NOT drop any points at home, under any circumstances.
This is not the time for the Nigeria Football Federation to auction the match to states where the pitches are unsuitable or where the players are uncomfortable playing.
They must pick a unanimously preferred venue and stick with it, even if one money-miss-road governor offers hundreds of millions to bring a key game to his state where either security cannot be guaranteed or the pitch is lopsided.
This is not the time to use the Super Eagles as a fund-raising outfit. It’s time to WIN and qualify for the World Cup.
If the team find Uyo to their taste after the Algeria game in November, then play the rest of the home matches there, please NFF. Please.
The only thing that matters in these qualifiers is that the absolute best in terms of preparation and motivation must be done to ensure the Eagles win ALL their home games.
No resources must be spared. EVERYTHING is riding on the home games.
Thankfully, the next two matches in the qualifiers are at home for the Eagles. And they are the big ones, against Algeria and Cameroon. Win those and the Eagles are more than halfway to Russia.
And fortune might just be smiling on Nigeria already as Algeria are in disarray three weeks to the first of these three utterly important matches.
With the exit of the head coach Milovan Rajevac and several names being bandied about, the Algerians will either arrive in Uyo with an interim coach or a substansive coach who will be new to the job.
Either way, it is not an ideal state of things going into such a massive game.
In sharp contrast, the Nigerian camp is in good nick, with no sign of any kind of rift. The head coach Gernot Rohr and his assistants are settled in, the vibe between the bench and the playing staff sounds good, and the players seem to genuinely work for each other and the good of the team.
While football is not mathematics and there will still be twists and turns and probably footballing land mines on the road to Russia, it does nobody any harm to project and know what is needed, what is the absolute minimum for the Eagles to reach the World Cup.
There are five matches left in these qualifiers, the Eagles have to win only three of them. All three at home.
It’s tough, but it’s doable, isn’t it?