ALEXANDRIA – Nigeria’s Super Eagles will go head to head today with defending champions, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon for the sixth time in Africa Cup of Nations history in one of the Round of 16 matches of the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt with a place in the quarter-finals at stake.
While both sides have shared two wins apiece in AFCON history, the last meeting between the bitter rivals fifteen years ago at the quarterfinal stage in Tunisia ended in a cathartic 2-1 win in favour of Nigeria.
That victory against then defending champions at the Stade Mustapha Ben Jannet in Monastir, Tunisia which was orchestrated by a virtuoso performance from legendary midfield maestro Austin “Jay Jay” Okocha, was for many Nigerians, sweet revenge for the heart-breaking penalty shoot-out loss to Cameroon in front of home fans in the final of the 2000 Nations Cup at the National Stadium, Surulere.
With Okocha having long retired, the void his absence left in the national team has remained a gaping hole with many players flattering to deceive before ultimately falling short.
Many fans, however, believe there is in the present Eagles setup, a player who is literally, the closest replacement for the former Super Eagles captain: his nephew Alex Iwobi.
Born in Lagos to Okocha’s sister, the Arsenal playmaker who relocated to London with his parents when he was four-years-old represented England at U16, U17 and U18 level before switching allegiance to the country of his birth.
Iwobi has gone on to make thirty-five appearances for the Super Eagles including at the World Cup last year and the ongoing Nations Cup in Egypt where he’s featured in all three games.
Against Cameroon today who are defending champions as they were in 2004, many would not mind seeing the 23-year-old fully morph into his uncle and replicate his heroics from fifteen years ago to help Nigeria progress to the quarter-finals.
Iwobi, however, says while he hopes to be as effective as his uncle was for Nigeria in 2004, no one can reasonably expect him to be exactly what Okocha was because they are “two different people” and that he can only do things his own way.
“Not at all,” Iwobi says to fans expecting a similar performance like Okocha had fifteen years ago.
“He’s Jay Jay Okocha and I’m Alex Iwobi we’re two different people. I can only do my best and do what I can do.
“Obviously what he did; he’s a legend for Nigeria and it’s hard for anyone to live up to his name but, me, I can only do my best and do my best for the country. So, if I’m able to be as good as him, that’s a plus but my main focus is to make sure that the team does well.”