All that would be at stake in today’s 2017 African Cup of Nations qualifier between Nigeria and Tanzania would be pride, seeing as Egypt has already picked the group’s sole ticket to the continental football fiesta, with Nigeria sitting in second place and the Taifa Stars of Tanzania in third place.
When both teams take to the lush green of the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo, Akwa Ibom, today, one side would be seeking to maintain dominance, while the other would be seeking the opportunity to make a statement.
Both teams are no more in reckoning for a place at the mundial – not even as best losers – , but, so far, in seven meetings, Nigeria has never lost to the Taifa Stars.
When both nations first crossed swords back in an international friendly in 1972, in Dar es Salaam, it ended goalless.
A year later, at the All Africa Games, both sides were at it again in the semi-final and Nigeria brilliantly edged the Tanzanians 2-1. Nigeria went ahead to dismiss Ghana 4-2 and draw 2-2 with Algeria.
To guarantee passage into the semi-finals, Nigeria needed to avoid defeat in their last group game against Tanzania.
Both nations had to wait to wait seven long years, when Nigeria would host the African Cup of Nations and be pitted in the same group with the Taifa Stars, Cote d’Ivoire and Egypt. Nigeria ran out 3-1 winners. Nigeria went on to win that AFCON.
Two years after her AFCON ’80 triumph, both nations were pitted in the first leg of the second round for the ’82 World Cup, in Lagos. The Taifa Stars came close to carrying the day, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw against their illustrious hosts, but lost 2-0 in the reverse fisture in front of their fans in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
It was almost 20 years before both nations locked horns again in an international friendly, in 2002, with Nigeria, again, running away 2-0 winners.
Both sides would be at it again today and, though the Taifa Stars have promised to draw first blood, the odds are stacked against them – even though they face a Nigerian side that is far from what it used to be.
More interestingly, after the angling for a foreign coach, the Nigeria Football Federation finally appointed German Gernot Rohr to lead the nation’s senior male team, Nigerians would be more focused on how his changes engineer a win or otherwise today – a factor which would go a long way in telling how prepared he would be to face the stern test which the team has to pass to be at the Russia 2018 World Cup.