Win or go home.
Nigeria and Zambia have reached the knockout phase of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, and the goal will be eminently clear when the two African rivals hit the Frank Clair Stadium pitch for their second-round match today (4:45 p.m., GolTV).
"The most important thing in a tournament like this is to qualify for the next round," Nigerian coach Isah Ladam Basso said yesterday after his team's final training session. "Even if it is 1-0, it's a win."
For the first time at a FIFA tournament, Nigeria didn't lose a match or allow a goal in the group stage. But given that the Flying Eagles beat Zambia 4-2 during the African qualifying tournament, an orgy of offence isn't out of the question today.
"In this kind of encounter, there are no draws," said Zambian coach George Lwandamina. "You have to go for a win. If you are going for the win, then you have to attack. That's what I believe in."
Strikers Ezekiel Bala of Nigeria and Clifford Mulenga of Zambia have been two of the top offensive threats of the tournament so far. They figure to be a pair to watch today.
For Nigeria, which reached the U-20 World Cup final in 2005 in the Netherlands, this matchup represents another step on the road toward the loftiest of goals.
"If you don't win, (reaching) the Round of 16 is as good as not even qualifying," said Bosso. "So that is why it is important for us to play our best and win the match."
But reaching the second round has already made this a run of historic proportions for the Copper Bullets. A win today would be indescribable, especially for their Zambian countrymen watching back home in Lusaka and beyond.
"Their eyes and ears are with this team," said Kalusha Bwalya, Zambia's greatest all-time footballer, who is the team leader at this tournament. "They know exactly what is happening here.
"If we are able to beat a powerhouse like Nigeria, I think it will count as one of the most important wins (ever) for Zambia."
Though Nigeria is the favourite, it isn't looking past its foe today.
"Technically, they are very sound," said Bosso. "I respect Zambian football."
But Zambia, which wasn't expected to survive beyond group play, is relishing its position.
"We've been the underdog all the time," said Lwandamina. "But we display something else on the pitch."
Added Bwalya: "This team, when it matters, has come up and made the good play ... The players are much more confident now.
"We are hoping (for) a little bit more giant killing."