Friday, October 9, 2015

Enigma: Nigeria v Cameroon contests....

After a disappointing 0-2 loss to Congo DR on Thursday, Nigeria should be aiming for a measure of respect against Cameroon on Sunday. Unfortunately, Nigeria's week in Belgium for the games against Congo DR and Cameroon has been clouded by the widely publicized verbal battles between Nigeria's new Manager Sunday Oliseh and the team's former captain Vincent Enyeama with the latter announcing a sudden retirement a few days ago. Oliseh has likely alienated a section of Nigerian fans, some of whom are calling for his sack. Reality is Oliseh will remain on his job but now he must win to earn back the trust of Nigerian fans. That task begins v Cameroon after the loss to Congo DR.

However, results from Nigeria v Cameroon football matches must certainly be one of the major enigmas in African football. The teams face each other in an international friendly in Belgium. It will be their first meeting in more than a decade.

If you walked through the streets of Nigeria to ask about a probable outcome in a Nigeria v Cameroon game you will sense the fear in Nigerians and perhaps the claim that Nigeria always loses such games. That feeling is palpable. However, the fact is that Nigeria has actually dominated Cameroon in their 19 meetings with Nigeria having an efficiency score of 0.63 (Extremely high in a rivalry), winning 10 of the 19 games and only losing 3! It sounds unbelievable but it is true. However, in all three losses to Cameroon, it has involved two Cup of Nations Final and one key game to determine a World Cup qualifier. To add insult to injury, Cameroon won another Cup of Nations after a draw in 2000 (Won on a tie breaker penalty kicks). Because the losses have come at critical moments, they have tended to linger in people's memories.

This week's game in Belgium is not critical and is the type of international encounters that Nigeria has dominated over Cameroon in historical terms. To put things into perspective, Nigeria has not lost to Cameroon for almost three decades and has won in four of the last five contests with the fifth game being the 2-2 tie in the Cup of African Nations final. Cameroon secured the cup on a tie breaker. Moreover, Cameroon failed to beat Nigeria in more than two decades after their first encounter in 1960 until 1984 when they upended Nigeria in a Cup of African Nations final in 1984.  But it will be wrong to state that Nigeria has never beaten Cameroon in critical games. Nigeria did eliminate Cameroon from the qualifiers for the 1970 World Cup in a heartbreaking fashion, winning 3-2 in Douala after a tie in Lagos. Then Nigeria beat Cameroon in Senegal 2-1 to take third place at the Cup of African Nations in 1992 and then eliminated Cameroon from the 2004 Cup of African Nations 2-1 at the quarter final stage in Tunisia. That was Nigeria's last game against Cameroon. The full results of all 19 encounters appear on the Table below.

It is one of the most puzzling rivalries in African football. Cameroon wins the big games and Nigeria wins the small ones, at least not in a Cup final!