Super Eagles bid to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup has been put on hold after being forced to a thrilling 1-1 draw by African champions, the Indomitable Lions yesterday at the Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaounde. Eagles would have become the first country in Africa to qualify for 2018 had they beaten Cameroon and if Algeria win or draw in today’s match against Zambia in Algiers. A 30th minute goal by Gent winger, Moses Simon was cancelled out by a well struck 73rd minute penalty by substitute Vincent Aboubakar, leaving Nigeria firmly perched on top of the Group B table, with 10 points, as against three points for Cameroon, who have been eliminated by the Nigerians. Eagles top the table with 10 points, Zambia stay second with four points, Cameroon have two points while Algeria are bottom with a solitary point.
And the lines seem to be falling into pleasant places for the Eagles, who were truly outstanding in Yaounde, despite the poor officiating by Gambia referee Bakary Gassama, who was guilty of overlooking the dangerous and physical play by the Indomitable Lions. Needing at least a win to stay within touching distance of the World Cup party, Coach Gernot Rohr stuck with the same team starting line-up that dismantled Cameroon 4-0 in Uyo. Despite a late scare, Changchun Yatai striker Odion Ighalo passed a late fitness test and spearheaded Eagles attack and how well he tore into the defence of the Lions, troubling the likes of Collins Fai, Adolphe Teikeu, Yaya Banana, Serge Leuko, who however held firm as the game developed. With Lions coach, Hugo Bross making about six changes to his starting line-up, Cameroon came out fighting, baying for blood, with the likes of Sébastien Siani, André-Frank Zambo, Arnaud Djoum, and Benjamin Moukandjo leading the supply line for the striking trio of Jean-Pierre Nsame, Fabrice Olinga to profit from. But all attacking forays of the Lions were thwarted by Eagles defenders, Abdullahi Shehu, Elderson Echiejile, and central half duo of William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun, who was the star of the night, making lightweights of Nsame and Olinga. Eagles defence made the work of goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa very easy, especially in the first 25 minutes, as the Cameroonians were forced to long play of the ball into the Eagles goal, which were easily dealt with by the FC Ifeanyi Ubah safe hands, who was making his second start for the Super Eagles. As the match approached 28 minutes, Nigeria started to show their strength in midfield with John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses and Moses Simon running rings round Cameroon goal In one of such moves on 27 minutes, Moses tried to float a cross to the back post for the run of Ndidi, but the ball was over hit, for goal kick to Cameroon. A minute later, another Moses delivery from a corner kick, was went begging as no Nigerian player connected, allowing a reprieve for Cameroon. With the pressure now fully on the Cameroonian back-line, Nigeria finally broke the deadlock after Moses drove a low cross into the box, but goalkeeper Fabrice Ondoa was only to make an half stop, leaving Moses Simon in space to steer home a left-footed shot into the back of the net. It was a thunderous strike that elicited some back-flicks from the Gent winger, who was joined in the celebrating train by his teammates, with the bench also jumping up to savour the goal scored on 30 minutes. It was a truly deserved goal by the Eagles in Yaounde, and they should have doubled the tally on 44 minutes when Simon almost turned provider for Ighalo, but the cross from the right side, was brilliantly intercepted by Teikeu. But Cameroon were not going to take these Eagles onslaught with their head on the ground and they came back turbo-charged in the second half, and after series of attacking forays by either side, Cameroon finally got their breakthrough on 73 minutes, when goalkeeper Ezenwa fouled a Cameroonian forward, with the referee from Gambia, blowing for a penalty, which was blasted straight down the line by Vincent Aboubakar, who had come in for Nsame on 62 minutes. The equaliser seemed like the tonic Cameroon needed to get their World Cup dream alive, pouring into the Eagles half, charging forward, throwing their body on the line, looking for cheap calls by the referee, who sometimes seemed to have lost control of the game, as the hosts started to look for cheap penalty calls, at the slightest challenge by Eagles defenders. In one of such hazy moments, Ogenyi Onazi was given a yellow card three minutes after the goal by Cameroon. In an attempt to douse the threat by the hosts, Coach Gernot Rohr introduced Leicester forward, kelechi Iheanacho for Ighalo on 79 minutes and on 86 minutes, he substituted Onazi with Ognenekaro Etebo. The changes almost paid full dividends for the Eagles, who went close to getting the winner through Chelsea wing-back Moses, whose shot was well dealt with by Lions goalie. In their desperation to score the winner, Cameroon almost injured goalkeeper Ezenwa, who made two quick-fire saves to deny the on-rushing Lions forward from scoring what would have been an undeserved winner. It was the last highlight of the game, despite the five minutes of injury time added by the fourth official for stoppages as Eagles closed in on the Russia World Cup ticket, eliminating Cameroon in their wake and remaining in pole position to become Africa’s first qualify for the FIFA World Cup.