Having already qualified for the knockout stage of the Africa Cup of Nations, the Super Eagles of Nigeria will likely leave no stone unturned when they meet Madagascar in the last round of the group matches.
The Nigerians will square off with the islanders at Alexandria Stadium, Cairo at 6pm (SA time) on Sunday.
In the bigger scheme of things, the encounter will decide whether the Nigerians progress to the next round as the group winners or runners-up.
It’s not a dead-rubber because it has been a perfect start for the West Africans, and they would want to continue with the momentum.
In the opener, they met Afcon debutants Burundi, whom they beat 1-0. That was followed by a 1-0 victory against Guinea.
That was supposedly their toughest assignment in the group, but Gernot Rohr’s troops made it look like a routine exercise, despite fielding relatively a B side.
In the second game against Guinea, Rohr dropped captain and veteran John Obi Mikel from the heart of the engine, as well as youngsters Samuel Chukwueze and Paul Onuacho.
In came Ahmed Musa and Odion Ighalo upfront, and the duo aced their roles, but it took a strike from Kenneth Omeruo to get the full points.
Omeruo is one of the three survivors – together with Mikel and Ahmed Musa – from the class of 2013, which won the Afcon title that year.
That was, ironically, the last time the Super Eagles qualified for the competition, under former captain Stephen Keshi.
Fast-track to three editions later, and Rohr appears to have gotten his recipe right – blending youth with experience.
The Super Eagles began to show signs of regrouping in the 2018 Fifa World Cup where they became the first African team to qualify the tournament.
Moreover, their only blemish in the qualifiers for the ongoing tournament was losing and drawing to Bafana Bafana.
In the ongoing continental showpiece in Egypt, the Super Eagles achieved the same feat that they did last time – becoming the first team to qualify for the knockout stage. That was done in an astonishing manner.
Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi played both matches, ahead of the usual No 1 Francis Ozoho, who’s plying his trade with Spain’s Deportivo de la Coruna.
Akpeyi has done everything right to keep the number one jersey – keeping a clean sheet in both matches.
Going into the new domestic season of the Premier Soccer League, that achievement could possibly enhance the chances of Akpeyi donning the No 1 jersey at Chiefs ahead of Itumeleng Khune, who’ll be returning to action after a long layoff due to a shoulder injury.
But former Chippa United goalie Akpeyi will have to justify that by inspiring his side to become kings of African football for the fourth time.
It will take a while to replace a goalkeeper such as veteran Vincent Enyeama, who has led the West Africans to successful tournaments around the African continent and internationally, but Akpeyi has got the potential to walk in Enyeama’s football path.@Mihlalibaleka