Yemisi Adesuyi, Lagos
The delegation of Senior National Team of Democratic Republic of Congo, otherwise known as Simba, flew into Port Harcourt ahead of Monday’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Send Forth encounter with the Super Eagles.
Ranked 38 in the world (nine places ahead of three –time African champions Nigeria), the Simba themselves came very close to a Russia 2018 ticket, conceding to Tunisia only on the last day of the race.
A period of loss of concentration, which enabled the Carthage Eagles to score two quick goals and tie their encounter in Kinshasa on 5th September 2017 was their undoing, as subsequent victory over Libya in Monastir was neutralized by Tunisia’s own defeat of Guinea.
Yet, the Simba, who won the Africa Cup of Nations on home soil in 1968 and in Egypt six years later, is never a team to be under-rated. The team holds the record of being the first African side south of the Sahara to fly Africa’s flag at the FIFA World Cup, way back in 1974.
Nowadays, the likes of Gael Kakuta, Benik Afobe and Cedric Bakambu lead the line for the Simba, and though a painful loss the World Cup ticket was, they look forward with high hopes to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations race, in which they hammered neighbouring Congo 3-1 at the start of the campaign 11 months ago.
Rivers State Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike will be chief host as the Super Eagles test strength against the feisty visitors at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium on Monday, with scores of other prominent Nigerians and tens of thousands more to have a last opportunity to cheer their team before departure to the FIFA World Cup finals in Russia.
Nigeria’s squad includes Captain Mikel John Obi, Ogenyi Onazi and Ahmed Musa – who all featured at the last World Cup in Brazil – as well as Olympic bronze medallists Abdullahi Shehu, William Ekong and Oghenekaro Etebo. They provide the spine for a young team that was actually the youngest to make it out of the qualifying series.
Young and confident performers like Leon Balogun, Olaoluwa Aina, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Brian Idowu, Wilfred Ndidi, John Ogu, Joel Obi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Moses Simon and Alex Iwobi add fluorescence and swagger, and the experience of the likes of Kenneth Omeruo and Elderson Echiejile would do no harm.
Monday’s clash will be the seventh official clash between both countries, with the most famous encounter being an Africa Cup of Nations battle in a sunny Dire Dawa, Ethiopia in March 1976, in which a young Eagles squad overhauled defending champions DR Congo (then Zaire) by four goals to two.
Goalkeepers: Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba FC); Francis Uzoho (Deportivo La Coruna, Spain); Daniel Akpeyi (Chippa United, South Africa); Dele Ajiboye (Plateau United)
Defenders: Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor FC, Turkey); Tyronne Ebuehi (Ado Den Haag, The Netherlands); Olaoluwa Aina (Hull City, England); Elderson Echiejile (Cercle Brugge KSV, Belgium); Brian Idowu (Amkar Perm, Russia); Chidozie Awaziem (Nantes FC, France); William Ekong (Bursaspor FC, Turkey); Leon Balogun (FSV Mainz 05, Germany); Kenneth Omeruo (Kasimpasa FC, Turkey); Stephen Eze (Lokomotiv Plovdiv, Bulgaria)
Midfielders: Mikel John Obi (Tianjin Teda, China); Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonspor FC, Turkey); Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England); Oghenekaro Etebo (UD Las Palmas, Spain); John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel); Uche Agbo (Standard Liege, Belgium); Joel Obi (Torino FC, Italy); Mikel Agu (Bursaspor FC, Turkey)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Moses Simon (KAA Gent, Belgium); Victor Moses (Chelsea FC, England); Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai, China); Alex Iwobi (Arsenal FC, England); Nwankwo Simeon (Crotone FC, Italy); Junior Lokosa (Kano Pillars)
Goalkeepers: Joel Kiassumbua, Anthony Mossi, Kalambayi Auguy
Defenders/Midfielders: Issama Mpeko, Glody Ngonda, Wilfried Moke, Christian Luyindama, Yannick Bangala, Chancel Mbemba, Aaron Tshibola, Paul-Jose Mpoku, Gael Kakuta, Kevin Mondeko, Arsene Zola, Bobo Ungenda, Padou Bompunga, Lema Mabidi, Fabrice Ngoma, Harrison Manzala, Nelson Munganga
Forwards: Chadrac Akolo, Cedric Bakambu, Britt Assombalonga, Benik Afobe, Kabongo Kasongo, Ben Malango, Ricky Tulengi, Firmin Mubele