Nigeria’s World Cup qualifying games this week against Cameroon are not just another set of games or another competition. They are psychological tests. For years, the ghost of Cameroon’s domination in crucial games has weighed down the Nigerian football psyche. It is a mental domination that has created a sense of Cameroon’s dominated in encounters against Nigeria even though the overall records between both countries state otherwise.
Mental domination tends to bend our thinking, to twist it to see ghosts where ghosts do not exist, to see apparitions where none exists and, thus, Nigeria sees Cameroon’s domination in matches where such do not exist. It is a psychological state that Nigeria needs to overcome. It is a test of Nigeria’s ability to beat Cameroon in the big game.
In 21 games against Cameroon, Nigeria has won 12 and lost just three. But Nigeria’s 12 wins have largely come in inconsequential games, a lower profile AFCON game and an international friendly. The losses? They have come in the big games and that is why they have stuck in our minds. That is why they weigh Nigeria down. Add to it a fourth, which was a loss in penalty kick tie-breaker in 2000 that gave the AFCON to Cameroon on Nigeria’s homeland. These losses have come in critical and competitive games – the final of the 1984 AFCON in Abidjan, the final of the 1988 AFCON in Casablanca, and in a crucial World Cup qualifier in Yaounde in 1989. None of those have been forgotten nor can they be easily forgotten in the years to come.
But this week, Nigeria has its opportunity for atonement. After all, this week’s World Cup qualifying games may ultimately decide whether Nigeria gets to the 2018 World Cup in Russia or not. Nigeria leads the World Cup qualifying group, four points ahead of Cameroon with four games and 12 points still available. That four points lead can quickly evaporate this week if the psychological test is failed. Surely, Nigeria is in the driver’s seat but Cameroon, yet again, is about to spoil the party. Will Nigeria let them? That is the question. Will the Nigerian psyche give way again to Cameroon or can Nigeria get its revenge?
One thing for sure is that the two games this week are going straight into the football history books. The narrative however is yet to be written but Nigeria’s psychological state and the apparition of Cameroon will surely have a say. Do not dwell on the 21 games between the two nations, dwell on the three or four that have led to anguish in Nigeria. It is those few that will be in the mind during the two encounters this week.
|11||Mar. 18, 1984||Abidjan, I/COAST||1-3||AFCON Final|
|13||Mar. 27, 1988||Casablanca, MOROCCO||0-1||AFCON Final|
|15||Aug. 27, 1989||Yaounde||0-1||WCQ|
|18||Feb. 13, 2000||Lagos||2-2*||AFCON Final|
*Nigeria lost tiebreaker