It’s all or nothing for the remaining African sides in the FIFA world cup tonight when they take to the field for their Round of 16 ties against European opposition.
Nigeria take on Les Bleus of France hoping their superb run so far does not get halted against one of the competition’s most in-form sides. Kickoff is at 16:00 GMT at the Estadio Nacionale in Brasilia.
Algeria’s Desert Foxes have no less a formidable task, billed to face Ghana’s Group G winners Germany at the Beira-Rio stadium in Porto Alegre, kickoff is at 20:00 GMT.
Nigeria has been the best African side at the competition so far, getting through their group with four points after a win over Bosnia-Herzegovina and a draw with Iran. Their only setback was a hard fought 3-2 loss to Argentina, a game in which they pegged back the South American side twice.
Ahmed Musa has been their most exciting player, with the CSKA Moscow winger scoring twice against Argentina, but this Nigerian side are much more than the sum of its parts. Stephen Keshi has built a well-oiled machine which won the 2013 African Cup of Nations and continues to defy the odds.
Chelsea midfielder Mikel Obi pulls his side’s strings from deep in midfield, whilst on the flanks Odemwingie and Musa work hard to supply their bull of a centre forward, Emmanuel Emenike.
In goal, Nigeria has one of the greatest African stoppers of all time in Vincent Enyeama.
Nigeria faced their own problems in camp; with the players staging a Ghana style boycott over bonuses, but manager Stephen Keshi assures all that is sorted out now.
Nigeria holds Africa’s biggest hope for a quarter final berth, a stage they have previously never reached. They have been to the round of 16 twice, consecutively in 1994 and 1998.
In France, Nigeria would face a team desperate to put the ignominy of first round exit four years ago behind them. And judging from the way they are playing so far it looks like they are on the right track.
But this Nigeria side has surprised several times in the past, and France would have to be on their toes if they are not to become the latest scalp for Stephen Keshi and his boys.
In Porto Alegre, Algeria would finally come face to face with the side responsible for their exit from the 1982 world cup. Algeria had beaten Germany earlier in the group, but subsequent results meant a 1-0 win for Germany over Austria would guarantee those two sides go through. Germany scored in the 10th minute, and the rest of the game was an exhibition game with both sides barely competing.
That collusion meant Algeria could not become the first African side to make the second round at the world cup, and they have not been able to make it since; which makes it ironic that after finally getting there, the obstacle to their further progression is Germany.
Algeria finished second in Group H, behind Belgium and ahead of Russia and South Korea. Their final group game, a tense 1-1 draw against Russia secured their passage, after an earlier 4-2 victory over South Korea.
Germany won Group G with 7 points, although they have not been as impressive as their reputations would suggest. A 2-2 draw against Ghana means Algeria can dream of an improbable victory, although that earlier game was played in stifling heat, a phenomena the Europeans have been struggling with so far.
If Africa is to make any further impact at this world cup, these two sides would have to overcome two European heavyweights.
On paper, the ties looked skewed against the Africans; but this has been a world cup of unpredictability and if either side play their cards right, they could end up being the 4th African side to reach the world cup quarter finals, after Cameroon, Senegal, and Ghana.