Neither Nigeria nor Cameroon will take anything for granted when they do battle at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo on Friday.
Hugo Broos’ men remain unbeaten – with two draws from two games – yet, anything but a win against the Super Eagles may leave them with too much to do in the race to secure qualification.
With both sides set to face off, how do they match up against one another across the park?
In goal, Carl Ikeme’s unfortunate absence has brought about a certain degree of uncertainly for the Super Eagles.
With Ikechukwu Ezenwa getting the nod to start in goal, how he’ll perform is anyone’s guess.
By contrast, the Cameroonians can sleep easy with their goalkeeping pick.
Fabrice Ondoa brings a certain level of assuredness for the Indomitable Lions and he’s shown his promise with his remarkable performances on the road to claiming the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon before following that up with his amazing displays in the Lions’ terrible Confederations Cup showing.
Defensively, both teams have shown tendencies of having a soft underbelly.
While Broos’ side showed a certain level of resilience in their remarkable run in Gabon (they let in just three goals), they certainly were awful in the Confederations Cup (games against Chile and Germany come to mind).
Admittedly, those opponents are heads and shoulders above the African champions, but could the defensive lapses shown in Russia plant seeds of doubt that maybe their defensive structure isn’t as good as they reckon?
For Rohr, a certain level of emphasis has been placed on vibrant attacking football, which in turn, has made the defence vulnerable.
A certain level of weakness has been shown when up against skilled and direct runners – especially out wide (think games against Zambia and Algeria).
Doubts persist with Kenneth Omeruo and Elderson Echiejile’s effectiveness at full-back; but with the former missing out this time around, and with the integration of Tyronne Ebuehi (a right-back) and Ola Aina (primarily a right-back, but capable of playing on the left), is Rohr set to have an epiphany?
It’s highly unlikely the German tactician elects to deploy both youngsters at fullback, so Echiejile would probably feature from the start.
A hallmark of the Cameroonians is their speed and strength as evidenced by their midfield.
The tenacious Lions never back down from a scuffle in the aim of seeking the upper hand on their opponents.
The duo of Andre-Frank Anguissa (arguably Cameroon’s best player in Russia) and Sebastien Siani relish a tussle and they’ll give as good as they’ve got against the Nigeria midfield.
The return of Mikel John Obi to the Super Eagles’ midfield couldn’t have come soon enough for Gernot Rohr.
The talisman offers a measure of control that was missed in the loss to South Africa. Besides being able to control a game, he’s no slouch in a physical battle which will come in handy in the encounter.
John Ogu’s imposing frame might prove useful too, while Oghenekaro Etebo could be deployed to offer a bit of legs in the middle of the park.
Cameroon’s attack could prove to be their undoing in Uyo.
Their inconsistency and profligacy marred their performance in the Confederations Cup and Vincent Aboubakar especially was culpable.
The powerful forward scored the winner in the Afcon final against Egypt, yet, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea due to his wastefulness.
The duo of Benjamin Moukandjo and Christian Bassogog was impressive in Gabon but couldn’t replicate their fine form in Russia.
It should be noted that when the Indomitable Lions triumphed on the continent, only one player (Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui) scored multiple goals. This shows where their problems lie and also why they’ve struggled early on in qualifying.
Nigeria, by contrast, have built their recent foundations under Rohr on attacking verve and swagger.
Although the Eagles suffered a blip in their last game against South Africa, they’d back themselves to find a goal or two when they come up against a Cameroon defence that struggles against mobile and incisive attackers.
With a lot riding on this game, who will come out the happier side when both countries lock horns in Uyo?