Battered, bruised, but not broken from the humiliation of a 4-0 beating from Nigeria last Friday in Uyo, Cameroon came into this second match against their neighbours in the fourth round of the African World Cup qualifiers in Yaounde with their wounded pride at stake. In the end, they salvaged a draw but not before giving Nigeria an almighty scare which left the favourites for qualification hanging for dear life waiting for the final whistle.
With only two points from three games, Cameroon’s hopes for qualifying for Russia next year were all but gone. But you wouldn’t have known this from how they settled into the game in the first half. Nigeria seemed to treat it like a stroll in the park, playing with no shape, and gave the ball away with alarming regularity. The away side never really got going until a dangerous run by Victor Moses after 13 minutes
Cameroon had much of the possession but lacked penetration and hardly troubled Nigeria’s inexperienced goalie Ikechukwu Ezenwa whose brave face did not hide his nervy performance.
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Nigeria gradually started growing into the game midway into the first half as it looked like the first encounter in Uyo was being replayed, with a slow Nigerian start. Central defender Leon Balogun went on an impressive run from the back, while striker Odion Ighalo was buzzing with intent. Ighalo, who got the 4-0 hammering going on Friday with the first goal, almost scored when set up by Mikel Obi on 28 minutes. His left foot screamer just went over the crossbar.
Cameroon were undone after 29 minutes when a mishit shot from Moses was flicked on by Ighalo to Moses Simon hovering on the left with the Cameroon defence missing in action. Simon swept his effort home with much aplomb and the Nigerians started thinking the job was done.
The second half followed the same pattern as the first, with the home side showing more dangerous intent as Nigeria were content to sit back. This was not a disciplined performance from the group leaders. The two centre-backs were poor with their distribution. Fullbacks Elderson Echiejile and Abdullahi Shehu were too erratic for Nigerian heartbeats.
Obi was not as influential as he was on Friday and departed after 63 minutes for Ndubuisi Agu, whom the game passed by as Cameroon put a vice-like grip on midfield. With Nigeria trying to counter, Moses nearly sealed it for his team with a curler that brushed the crossbar on 66 minutes.
As characteristic Nigerian complacency set in and with Cameroon seizing the initiative, Ezenwa came for a ball that he was favourite to reach, hesitated, and then felled Arnaud Djoum inside the box. Substitute Vincent Aboubakar slotted in the penalty down the middle with 15 minutes to go. It was their first shot on target.
Nigeria were then hanging on for dear life. There were two penalty shouts that could have been given on another day. Ezenwa redeemed himself with a double save that saw him injured by a collision with a Cameroon attacker. Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr tried to inject life into his limping team with Kelechi Iheanacho replacing Ighalo after 78 minutes and Ogenyi Onazi subbed for Oghenekaro Etebo on the 86th minute. But none of them provided any compelling reason to become starters.
The Nigerians will be happy with a draw – although more was expected following the 4-0 trouncing. They have 10 points from four games, and two more points from the last two group games against Zambia and Algeria should have them viewing available accommodation in Russia for next year. Closest rivals on the group table are Zambia with four points. Nigerian fans will watch Zambia away to Algeria tomorrow with interest. Cameroon are out of the running with three points from four games. They showed a lot of heart today to put up a respectable comeback from the mauling on Friday. But pride and a few rugby tackles could not hide the glaring absence of quality.