Tunisia ’94 Africa Cup of Nations winner, Mutiu Adepoju, has said Zambia could shock Nigeria in their Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier in Uyo on Saturday if the Super Eagles fail to play as a team.
Group B leaders with 10 points Nigeria will qualify for their sixth World Cup with a win over Chipolopolo, who are second on seven points.
Zambia will rely on their ceteran goalkeeper Kennedy Mweene and young strikers Justin Shonga, Patson Daka and Fashion Sakala for victory. They are expected to adopt a physical approach.
Adepoju, who spoke with a Punch correspondent on the phone during the week, urged the Eagles to take the game seriously, saying the Zambians could spring a surprise.
He said, “The match will not be a stroll in the park for Eagles because the Zambian team they will play on Saturday are not the same side they beat 2-1 in Ndola last year. The Eagles need to be very careful and cautious in their approach to the match.
“Nobody believed or thought that the Zambians would go to Algeria and get a win (1-0) after doing the same in a comfortable manner at home (3-1). The Eagles need to go all out for victory in Uyo.
“The players should have in mind that they are on the brink of qualifying for the World Cup, which is their target. Teamwork and a winning mentality will give Nigeria.”
Adepoju, who featured in the team that beat Chipolopolo 2-1 to win the 1994 AFCON, said the Eagles should not underrate their opponents.
He said, “We have an advantage over them going into the match because we have beaten them more than they have beaten us, and they have yet to beat us on our own turf while we have done that several times to them.
“What the Eagles had going for them to achieve that is the hunger to be the best on the continent and also the ability of the players to play for one another. If the Eagles lack that zeal and hunger to be the best, then it is possible for Zambia to rewrite history just like the South Africans did some months ago.
“They will be coming with a mindset that they are playing against, the best team in the group, and Nigeria should not see themselves as such. The hunger and resilience used to play the two legs against Cameroon last month should be seen in the Eagles for them to win.”
The former Spain-based midfielder, who represented Nigeria at the USA ’94 and France ’98 World Cups, added, “The Eagles have a good midfield and a fast attack but they need to be careful at the back to avoid conceding goals that could hurt the outcome of the match. Ikechukwu Ezenwa should be in goal based on his good performances against Cameroon and at the WAFU Cup.
“The central defence pairing of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong should concentrate on their job and help the right and left backs to contain the threat of the Zambian attackers.”
Nigeria and Zambia have met 17 times since 1973 with the Eagles beating Chipolopolo seven times and losing to the Southern Africans five times. Five meetings have ended in stalemates.