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Who’ll Save Eagles From Ivory Coast Elephants?

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By Bamidele Olowosagba

Just like the biblical record of Moses saving the Israelites from all the troubles of  King Pharaoh in Egypt, Chelsea of England’s striker, Victor Moses, rescued Nigeria’s Super Eagles from exiting the ongoing 2013 African Cup of Nations, AFCON, in South Africa with two late strikes in the match against the Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia on Tuesday.

The 22-year-old attacker, who has represented England at the age grade levels, but opted to play for the Nigerian national team as opposed to being fully capped for England, scored in the 78th and 85th of the pulsating match through penalties to save the country from an embarrassment of not making the quarter final.

With West African neighbours, Ivory Coast confirmed as Eagles’ opponents in the quarter-finals billed for the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Sunday, the question on the lips of many Nigerian football fans is: Who will save the Super Eagles from the rampaging Elephants of Ivory Coast, who are hot favourites?

Indeed, the Ivorians have been nothing but ruthless in getting the needed goals to go pass all the teams they have played so far in the tournament.

In their first group D match against Emmanuel Adebayor-captained Hawks of Togo, the Elephants relied on the creativity of Yaya Toure’s goal and a back breaking goal from Arsenal striker, Gervinho in the 87th minute to defeat their West African neighbours 2-1.

Also, in their second group match against former champions Tunisia, the Ivorian team without their captain on the starting list put three unreplied goals beyond the North Africans, with two of the goals coming from both  Toure and Gervinho. Ivorian German league based striker, Ya Konan scored the last goal of the match in the 89th minute to put the match beyond Tunisia.

Judging by the attacking prowess of the current Ivorian team and the history of matches between Nigeria and that nation in the past, one should expect nothing but a tough duel when both team s clash come Sunday.

Ivory Coast  hold a slight edge over Nigeria at previous Cup of Nations tournament clashes, winning two and losing one of five meetings that produced a meager seven goals.

Only few fans will forget in a hurry the last competitive match between both teams at the  Tunisia 1994 which ended 4-2 via penalty shootout after regulation time and extra time finished 2-2.

Nigeria survived the highly tensed match when two Ivorian players missed their spot  kicks and the late legendary striker, Rashidi Yekini converted the decisive last kick after Samson Siasia had missed his for Nigeria.

Going by the array of young and talented stars in the current  Eagles, the Nigerian team cannot be written off as they are capable  of turning the tide in their favour .

Villareal CF striker, Ike Uche happened to be the player many Nigerian football fans expect to deliver the goals for the country. This was based on the fact that he was the highest goal scorer for the Eagles during the qualifying matches for the biennial championship.

Surprisingly, Uche has not been able to put the ball into the opponent’s nets in all the three matches he has played so far.

Another player that football pundits will be looking forward to score the needed goals for Nigeria against Ivory Coast on Sunday is Spartak Moscow attacking forward, Emmanuel Emenike.

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The gangly striker has not disappointed many so far in the tournament. In  all the three matches he had played, he has netted two goals, against Burkina Faso in the first match and also, in the match against the defending champions, Zambia.

However, Emenike’s below par performance in the crucial match against Ethiopia last Tuesday, a match many of his fans and critics alike expected him to prove that he can deliver for the country anytime and in any match. He failed to deliver, when it mattered most.

Brown Ideye is another striker that Nigerians will also be looking up to lead the Eagles to the Promised Land, at least in the area of goal scoring, when they take on the Elephants on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the Dynamo Kiev striker has not been able rekindle his goal scoring form in all the group matches he has played so far.

A lot would be expected from him if he makes the team against the Ivorians in the quarter final match at least to justify his inclusion in the team that excluded Osaze Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins and Obinna Nsofor.

It would be recalled that Stephen Keshi’s decision to gate some players earned him bashes from some section of the sporting media and fans across the World.

Another area that many Nigerian football fans will be expecting goals against the Ivorians is from the defence.

The likes of veteran defender, Joseph Yobo and Efe Ambrose have proved in the past that they can be relied upon to surge forward to put the ball at the back of opponent’s goal post.

Many fans would not have forgotten how Yobo saved Nigeria’s blushes against Ethiopia with a late equaliser in a must-win Africa Nations Cup qualifier in Addis Ababa on 5 June, 2011 when coach Samson Siasia was in charge of the Eagles.

The Fenerbahçe of Turkey’s defender and Celtic of Scotland centre back, Ambrose, who almost scored through a header in the match against Ethiopia, will be expected to re-enact such form against Ivory Coast.

With less than 72 hours to the crucial match, Nigerians are anxiously waiting to see who will deliver the Super Eagles from being crushed by the Elephants, who are ready to trample on the Eagles.

Former Eagles’ Coach, Adegboye Onigbinde has said that with determination and commitment, Nigeria can beat Drogba and his men.

According to Onigbinde, who led Nigeria to the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan, no one should write off the Eagles against Ivory Coast yet.

“I don’t want to subscribe to the idea that Nigeria should forget about winning the quarter match against the Ivorians because of the star players in their team. I could still recall that in 2002 when I led the Eagles against England in the Korea/Japan World Cup, a lot of people have written us off because of the star players in the English team . But with determination and commitment of my players, we were able to hold England to a barren draw, which was a respectable result for us back then. I will advise the players in the Nigerian team in South Africa to be determined against Ivory Coast on Sunday,” Onigbinde said.

Will the Elephants trample on the Eagles, or will the Eagles feast on the Elephants? This will be decided come Sunday.

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