Nigeria face Cameroon in a World Cup qualifier on Monday, with their coach saying they are inspired to qualify for Russia 2018 by goalkeeper Carl Ikeme who is battling acute leukaemia.
Nigeria can become the first African qualifiers for the World Cup in Russia if they triumph in Yaounde and Zambia do not win in Algeria 24 hours later.
With three Group B matches to go, the Super Eagles have a maximum nine points – five ahead of Zambia, with Cameroon a further two points back and Algeria bottom on one point.
« We pledged to win this match for Carl, » said the Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr, after their impressive 4-0 win over African champions Cameroon in their home leg in Uyo on Friday.
Ikeme has been having treatment, including chemotherapy, since he was diagnosed in July.
« He is in my thoughts and those of the coaches, players and officials all the time. I believe he will inspire us in Cameroon, » Rohr added.
Rohr hopes his senior players Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel – who both scored on Friday – can replicate the form they showed against the Indomitable Lions in Uyo.
« Mikel is our leader and demonstrated that against Cameroon, » said Rohr about the former Chelsea star who now plays for Tianjin TEDA in China.
« I was pleasantly surprised because he has played very little football for about six months. His efforts meant a lot to the team. »
Rohr has also been boosted by the news that Nigeria have received clearance from Fifa for Chelsea defender Ola Aina to make his international debut against Cameroon.
Aina, who is on a season-long loan at English Championship side Hull City, was born in London to Nigerian parents.
Although he has a Nigerian passport, he has represented England at various junior levels and so needed to apply to change his international allegiance.
Rohr had hoped to use Aina in Friday’s clash against Cameroon but the Fifa clearance did not arrive in time.
|2018 World Cup qualifiers for Africa (rounds 3 and 4)|
|Uganda 1-0 Egypt (Grp E)||Cameroon v Nigeria (Grp B)|
|Guinea 3-2 Libya (Grp A)||Libya v Guinea (Grp A in Tunisia)|
|Ghana 1-1 Congo (Grp E)||Congo v Ghana (Grp E)|
|Nigeria 4-0 Cameroon (Grp B)||South Africa v Cape Verde (Grp D)|
|Cape Verde 2-1 South Africa (Grp D)||Ivory Coast v Gabon (Grp C)|
|Morocco 6-0 Mali (Grp C)||DR Congo v Tunisia (Grp A)|
|Tunisia 2-1 DR Congo (Grp A)||Burkina Faso v Senegal (Grp D)|
|Saturday:||Egypt v Uganda (Grp E)|
|Zambia 3-1 Algeria (Grp B)||Mali v Morocco (Grp C)|
|Gabon 0-3 Ivory Coast (Grp C)||Algeria v Zambia (Grp B)|
|Senegal 0-0 Burkina Faso (Grp D)|
As for Cameroon, their coach Hugo Broos accepts that Cameroon now look set to miss the 2018 World Cup having dropped seven points in three matches.
« Only a miracle can rescue us, » he admitted, saying that only pride is now at stake in Yaounde.
« We are conscious that on Friday we had a very bad game, » said Broos on Sunday night.
« You should have been in the dressing room after the game, you could see it was a catastrophe. »
Broos has been dealt a further blow with the news that his Stoke City forward, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, will miss the match in Yaounde through injury.
Also on Monday, Guinea will aim to keep alive their hopes of qualifying from Group A when they face Libya.
Guinea won their home leg against Libya 3-2 on Thursday thanks to a 93rd minute winner, after Libya staged a late fight-back from 2-0 down to 2-2.
Libya are « staging » the match in Monastir as they are not permitted to host games in Libya on security grounds.
Tunisia are in command in Group A with three wins out of three ahead of their match away to DR Congo on Tuesday.
In other fixtures on Tuesday, Ghana are in serious trouble ahead of their Group E match in Congo Brazzaville.
The Black Stars trail leaders Uganda by five points and Egypt by four.
Veteran captain and striker Asamoah Gyan admits they are staring elimination in the face.
« It is going to be very difficult to qualify, » he accepted after a late Thomas Partey goal salvaged a 1-1 home draw with bottom-of-the-table Congo in Kumasi.
« Tactically, mentally – things did not go well for us, » he said of a Ghana side that qualified for the last three World Cups and reached the 2010 quarter-finals.
Uganda edged Egypt 1-0 in Kampala and must try and repeat that feat on Tuesday in the intimidating Borg El Arab Stadium in Alexandria.
« My players had an off-day in Uganda, we still have nine points to fight for, » said Argentina-born Egypt coach Hector Cuper.
Although the « Pharaohs » have been African champions a record seven times, they have consistently battled to qualify for the World Cup, last reaching the finals 27 years ago.
South Africa had hopes of a fourth appearance at the four-yearly global football showpiece dented by a 2-1 away loss to Cape Verde after taking an early lead.
« The importance of the game affected a few players and they did not reach their normal standard, » conceded coach Stuart Baxter.
Burkina Faso top Group D with five points as they chase a maiden World Cup qualification, Senegal and South Africa have four and Cape Verde three.