Kuriat Palace. This is where the Super Eagles of Nigeria are putting on in Tunisia. The hotel is located in the Mediterranean seaside resort of Monastir, situated some 160 kilometres from Tunis, the capital city and a stone throw from Sousse, where the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon are based. Yesterday morning, C.T. ventured into the Super Eagles’ nest to take the pulse 72 hours before the crucial encounter against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon.
The white/green Nigerian flag at the entrance of the complex was an adequate indication that the journalists were at the right place. Four guards watched over the locked gate. Since the theft in the rooms of the Indomitable Lions last week, security has tightened in and around hotels where players are lodged. But the gatemen of Kuriat Palace were polite as they immediately ushered the reporters into the complex.
There was calm. Only the whispering of leaves in the cold winter the occasional splashing of waves on the coast a few metres away broke the silence. As the team approached the entrance into the main building, some Nigerians were hurrying out. « Oga, wunna good morning », one of the reporters broke the silence in Pidgin. The Nigerians were excited to meet their Cameroonian ‘brother and sisters’. « So you have come here to see us. We are happy. But know that history will not repeat itself on Sunday », one of the men said in a cynical tone before ushering the journalists to go into the hotel and meet the technical staff.
The hotel lobby was full. Members of the Nigerian Football Association and the management of the team were concerting. Most of the players were in their rooms for a late morning nap. They had just finished breakfast and the first training session of the team ahead of Sunday’s encounter was hours away – 4:00pm. Defenceman, Isaac Okoronkwo was however one of the few to be out of bed. He was engaged in a tête-à-tête with the assistant coach Austin Eguaven.. Coach Eguaven decided to spend some moments with C.T.. « Sunday’s encounter is very crucial. But it will be a good match », he said. The former SuperEagle who played four encounters against Cameroon, explained that since the 2-1 victory over Benin the Super Eagles are psychologically prepared to face the Indomitable Lions at the quarter finals. « Cameroon and Nigeria know themselves too well. But this time, Nigeria is set to win », he said. « The Cameroonian team of today is very strong physically, but lack the technique. Nigeria on the other hand has the tactic but lack the force of the Super Eagles of yesteryears », he continued.
The stakes of next Sunday’s encounter are so high that Nigeria has decided to recall Ayegbini Yakubu, Celestine Babayaro and Voctor Agali, the three players expelled from the Nigerian squad at the African Cup of Nations last Friday for indiscipline. Noticeably absent from the hotel was team captain, Jay Jay Okocha. He had gone to Tunis to receive the BBC African footballer of the year trophy. Mr Eguavoen however reassured us that their number one skipper was fit. This could not be otherwise judging from the great attention which Okocha is receiving form his club, Bolton Wanderers. The club cares about their key player to the extent that they have sent their physiotherapist, Faz Page, to watch over Okocha, and help him with his fitness in Tunisia.
Coach, Christian Chukwu and most of the players acknowledged the high standards of Cameroon »s football team. and expressed the wish that fair play should triumph in the match of Sunday. As assistant coach Eguavoen puts it, « It is not war. It is just a game and the better side would win ».