The Super Eagles kicked off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a routine win over Liberia, but they face probably their biggest challenge of Group C with an understrength team
Cape Verde Islands host Nigeria at the Estádio Municipal Adérito Sena, Mindelo, on matchday two of the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, with the home side poised to snatch the three points and Group C’s top spot at stake.
The Blue Sharks are at full strength and arrive for Tuesday’s clash on the back of an impressive display in the Central African Republic, which helped them secure a 1-1 draw on matchday one.
But claiming the scalp of the Super Eagles, three-time continental kings, won’t come easy.
Tiny but dangerous Blue Sharks
The Cape Verde Islands, a tiny island nation of just over half a million people, have never qualified for the World Cup.
But a recent surge has seen the Creoles earn respect across the continent for their energetic and inventive displays.
The Blue Sharks did well to qualify for Cameroon 2022, their third Afcon participation in the last eight years, while not forgetting that they beat a full-strength Algeria in a friendly tie months before the North Africans powered to the Afcon title in Egypt.
It would be unwise to underrate a team that has lost none of their last seven competitive fixtures while boasting nine wins and six losses in their previous 17 World Cup qualifiers.
A depleted Super Eagles will need strong wings to soar in Mindelo
Nigeria approach this game missing a handful of first-team regulars who distinguished themselves against Liberia but have departed for their United Kingdom-based clubs.
Head coach Gernot Rohr will be without Friday’s two-goal hero Kelechi Iheanacho, MVP Alex Iwobi, first-choice centre-backs Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong, Rangers ace Joe Aribo, Watford star Oghenekaro Etebo, and Leicester City dynamo Wilfred Ndidi.
It’s a massive drop in quality for the Super Eagles in the absence of these main actors.
Greenhorns Innocent Bonke and Bologna’s Michael Kinglsey may make their international debut. Shehu Abdullahi, predominantly deployed as a full-back, could provide an experienced head in midfield.
But with goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, veteran defender Kenneth Omeruo and Napoli’s Victor Osimhen forming the spine of the new-look team, the Eagles still boast enough quality to defend their illustrious pedigree.
Nigeria have not lost a single World Cup qualifying match under Gernot Rohr, bar that boardroom three goals and three points gifted to Algeria en route Russia 2018.
And one has to go back 17 years and 19 games to see a Super Eagles away loss in the WC qualifying series – a bitter 1-0 defeat in Angola in 2004 that denied Nigeria the chance to participate in the 2006 tournament.
Competition: Africa World Cup qualification, Group C
Date: Tuesday, September 7
Venue: Estádio Municipal Adérito Sena in Mindelo
Kickoff time: 5 pm
Cape Verde possible lineup (4-3-3):
Vozinha; D.Tavares, Lopes, Stopira, S.Furtado; Andrade, Ponck, Santos; Mendes, J.Tavares, A.Furtado
Nigeria’s possible lineup (4-2-3-1): Okoye; Aina, Omeruo, Awaziem, Collins; Abdullahi, Bonke; Simon, Kalu, Musa; Osimhen.
Ordinarily, 34th-ranked Nigeria would be heavy favourites against a team 43 spots below them on the FIFA world ranking but the odds even out when the absence of key Super Eagles stars are factored in.
The synthetic surface of the Municipal Adérito Sena Stadium then tilts the odds significantly in Cape Verde’s favour, which could make Nigeria satisfied with anything but a defeat.
Betting Tip: Cape Verde to win or draw