The race for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar kicks off for many African countries this week, with two West African sides set to slug it out in Lagos on Friday
Nigeria play the first of their two World Cup qualifying matches during this international break on September 3, with the Super Eagles billed to take on Liberia at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos.
Liberia have never qualified for the Mundial, but the Lone Star earned their place in this group stage by defeating Sierra Leone 3-2 on aggregate in the last round.
Three-time African champions Nigeria have missed only one of the last seven editions of the Fifa World Cup and are heavy favourites to finish top of Group C.
Lone Star keen to impress
Backed by football-crazy President George Weah, Africa’s only world footballer of the year, the Lone Star will not be low on motivation when they face their West African brothers.
The Liberians are an unpredictable lot, though.
Peter Butler’s men showed good signs when defeating Sudan 1-0 in a friendly at the Stade Chedly-Zouiten, Tunis in mid-June, only to look like schoolboys when suffering a 5-1 friendly loss to Algeria three days later.
Anything can be expected from a side that has won three and lost three of their last six matches in all competitions.
But in Slavia Prague’s Oscar Dorley and Hatayspor’s Mohammed Kamara, the visitors have a few weapons to cause their hosts some problems.
History favours the Eagles
But it will take some performance for Liberia to beat the Nigerians in their backyard.
In their 46-year history of trading tackles with each other, the Lone Star are yet to record a win away to the Super Eagles.
The former Afcon champions have won each of the four encounters played on Nigerian soil, on a 12-1 aggregate.
It gets better.
Nigeria have a near-perfect home record in the World Cup qualifying series, losing none of their last 24 matches, winning an astonishing 21 of them while keeping clean sheets in all but six.
Only Angola, Tunisia, and Kenya have managed to come to Nigeria and earn a draw in the last 21 years.
Algeria, South Africa, Cameroon, Sudan, Ghana, and Zambia are the former continental champions who have found the Eagles too super to tame on home soil during that period.
Despite being the only African nation to have produced a World Footballer of the Year, Liberia do not even fall in their category.
Quality gives Nigeria the edge
The Lone stars’ chances of picking any positive result from this fixture get even slimmer when one looks at the quality of players at Gernot Rohr’s disposal.
Napoli’s record signing Victor Osimhen leads an attack that can also call on the prolific Paul Onuachu and Kelechi Iheanacho.
In midfield, Wilfred Ndidi is one of the world’s best. The Leicester City man will likely function beside Watford’s Oghenekaro Etebo and behind highly-rated Scottish league title winner Joe Aribo.
The Super Eagles boast one of the Eredivisie’s best young goalkeepers in Maduka Okoye. The Sparta Rotterdam shot-stopper’s goal will probably be shielded by Premier League performer William Troost-Ekong and Rangers defender Leon Balogun.
It could be a long, difficult afternoon on Friday for the visitors.
Competition: World Cup qualification Group C, matchday one
Venue: Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos.
Time: 5 pm Nigerian time.
Date: Friday, September 3.
Nigeria’s probable starting XI (4-3-3): Okoye; Aina, Balogun, Troost-Ekong, Collins; Ndidi, Etebo, Aribo; Iwobi, Osimhen, Iheanacho.
Liberia’s probable starting XI (5-3-2): Songo; Jerbo, Saygbe, Dweh, Paye, Bah; Njie, Macauley, Dorley; Sherman, M.Kamara.
The Super Eagles have won 21 of their last 24 world cup qualifying matches, keeping a clean sheet in 18 of them. Another comfortable victory can be carved out without necessarily getting out of second gear.
Tip: Nigeria to win and both teams to score, No