Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THE African Clasico — a heavyweight battle featuring millionaire footballers drawn from four continents and 20 countries — explodes on Friday when Nigeria’s Super Eagles host the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in a 2018 FIFA World Cup showdown in Uyo.The iconic derby between countries who have won two of the last three Nations Cup finals, whose sequel will be in Yaounde four days later, is set to feature a current English Premiership champion, Victor Moses of Chelsea, and some Indomitable Lions who captured the AFCON title just six months ago.
Throw in former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, an English Premiership winner just two years ago, a UEFA Champions League winner in 2012, a UEFA Europa League Cup winner in 2013 and two Nigerian stars who cost Leicester City a combined $53 million in transfer fees, then you get a good idea of why this titanic battle is generating all the interest on the continent.
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By the time the second of the back-to-back 2018 World Cup qualifier ends on Monday, players drawn from clubs in Nigeria, South Africa, Portugal, Turkey, Cyprus, Germany, Holland, France, England, Israel, Belgium, China, Spain, Norway, Czech Republic, Greece, Scotland, United States, Switzerland and Austria would possibly have been part of the showcase.
They would have flown in from the United States, Europe, Asia and on the southern tip of the continent to feature in this blockbuster football showdown that is the pick of the crop of the latest rounds the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Africa.
Zimbabwe will not be part of these World Cup qualifying battles around the continent with the Warriors paying dearly for the sins of their administrators who failed to settle a debt owed to Brazilian coach Valinhos leading to the team’s expulsion from the race for a place in Russia.
Instead of a probable Battle of the Limpopo showdown against Bafana Bafana or Battle of the Zambezi clash against Zambia, local football fans are, instead, bracing for the explosion of a Harare Derby that marks its 40th anniversary at the National Sports Stadium on Sunday.
And, for good measure, the match could provide us with our unique version of the African Clasico when, for the first time in its history, the two domestic football giants’ strike-forces will be led by a Nigerian and Cameroonian forward.
Christian Epoupa Joel Ntoupa is no stranger to representing his country having already featured for the Cameroon Under-20s and Under-23 national teams and having one cap in the colours of the Indomitable Lions.
He still dreams of adding to his number of appearances for the Indomitable Lions and while he will certainly struggle to break into a star-studded strike-force led by the explosive Christian Bassogog, who was voted the best player at the last Nations Cup finals, at 24, Epoupa still has time on his side.
And the forward has been making a huge impression at the Glamour Boys where he has transformed himself into the leader of their attack, scoring some stunning goals that have lit the domestic Premiership and also impressing as a team player who acknowledges the value of teamwork.
A true professional, who puts everything into every shift when he is thrown into battle, Epoupa has thrust himself into the hearts and soul of the DeMbare fans, a people who appreciate the value of hard work and knows when someone is putting his all into their club’s cause, even on the occasions they lose.
While the resurgent Denver Mukamba still suffers from the occasional loss of concentration, choosing show-boating at a time when the match hasn’t yet been won, the Cameroonian has been a refreshing oasis of professionalism in that attack — a no-nonsense character who is here to work and nothing else.
Even though he has scored some of the best individual goals on the domestic Premiership this season, the Cameroonian remains grounded, still driven by a burning desire to do better in the next game, a character that separates special athletes from the ordinary ones.
For a second, just imagine if some of the beautiful goals he has scored this season had been scored by some of our showmen, who believe they have already made it when they haven’t even started in this journey.
Imagine how that would have propelled them to start parading themselves right now — both on the field and on their social media pages — as the next best thing to grace our football fields since Moses Chunga, Peter Ndlovu, Vitalis Takawira or Benjamin Nkonjera.
Suddenly behaving as if they have more medals than Cristiano Ronaldo and more money than Floyd Mayweather. Imagine how many training sessions they would have missed, by now, thinking they are the kings and they can’t learn anything more from the coaches in charge of them and just need to be thrown into the team, every other Sunday, to showcase their skills.
Instead, according to Lloyd Mutasa, the more Epoupa has scored the beauties, the harder he has trained and the hungrier he is to get onto the field to try and deliver for a club whose fans have charmed his spirit.
There is something, if not everything, which guys like Mukamba can learn from this Cameroonian gunslinger. Nigerian forward, Abasirim “Kilimanjaro’’ Chidiebere, is still trying to find his way in the domestic game, battling to settle down after being snapped by CAPS United during mid-season, and is still to open his account for the Green Machine.
Of course, he has only been restricted to some cameo roles in a strikeforce where Dominic Chungwa and exciting newboy John Zhuwawo have established themselves as the first-choice partners.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t play and the CAPS United fans have already shown their confidence in him by loudly calling for his introduction into matches, charmed by the promise that his fine physique provides and confident he can make a huge difference if given time.
With Chungwa unavailable for the Harare Derby on Sunday, the Nigerian could, at long last, be thrust into the starting XI and if he can announce his arrival with a match-winning goal, or goals, against the ultimate opponent, it would be the stuff that dreams are made of.
Kilimanjaro in the green corner, Nyakanyaka in the blue corner, Cameroon versus Nigeria — not the African Clasico itself, but a miniature version of it played on the neutral fields of Harare on a special occasion for the Derby — it’s something worth waiting for.
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Bring it on!