In less than a month, all eyes will be on Cape Coast and Abuja when two of the biggest countries in West Africa clash in two grudge matches.
It is no longer news that Nigeria and Ghana will clash in a two-legged playoff match in March for a ticket to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar later this year.
The two games between the two West African giants is one of the five playoff games involving African countries in the CAF qualifying section.
While Egypt vs Senegal and Cameroon vs Algeria may be the games to watch, Nigeria’s clash against Ghana is the biggest historically.
Both countries have had a rivalry that dates back to 1950. It is not just football that makes Ghana and Nigeria rivals.
The music, culture, food and economy also contributes hugely to their rivalry. Surprisingly, it is also what connects the two nations.
In other words, we can call Nigeria and Ghana frenemies. When the two nations were drawn together in the World Cup playoffs, it was the trending topic on social media, with many calling it the Jollof derby.
Both nations claim to have the best Jollof rice (a popular rice dish from West Africa), so it is only fair it is dubbed the Jollof derby.
It has also been called the Shatta Wale vs Burna Boy derby after the former accused Nigerian artists of not doing more to help the growth of Ghanaian artists.
These factors have added more spice to the two games. But before the two matches, how do they measure against each other.
Ghana have the upper hand here, with 21 wins to Nigeria’s ten. In fact, the Super Eagles have not beaten the Black Stars since 2006.
The Black Stars have won three of the last four games between the two sides, with the other game ending in a draw.
Recent form makes Nigeria the favourites
However, while Nigeria have an inferior record, they are the favourites going into the game because of their recent form.
Both teams played at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, but Ghana failed to qualify from a group that had Comoros, Morocco and Gabon.
Although Nigeria did not fare better, losing to Tunisia in the Round of 16, they still showed their quality, winning all their group games, including the opening match against runners-up, Egypt.
Again, Nigeria trumps Ghana as they have the better players on paper. The likes of Victor Osimhen, Emmanuel Dennis, Wilfred Ndidi, Paul Onuachu, Moses Simon are all big performers for their respective clubs in Europe’s top leagues.
While Ghana have some exciting young players, Thomas Partey is the only big name that plays for a reputable club in Europe’s top leagues.
Ghana sacked their coach Milovan Rajevac following the AFCON disaster and replaced him with Chris Hughton, who will be assisted by ex-Borussia Dortmund assistant coach Otto Addo and ex-Dutch international George Boateng.
In Hughton, the Black Stars possess a manager with enough Premier League experience, having managed the likes of Newcastle, Brighton and Norwich.
Meanwhile, Nigeria stuck with Austin Eguavoen despite the criticism he received following Nigeria’s loss to Tunisia.
The Super Eagles were the clear favourites going into the game, but the Carthage Eagles flipped the script to secure a 1-0 victory, exposing Eguavoen’s tactical limitations.
Eguavoen now has the chance to show he has learnt from that defeat by going toe-to-toe with Hughton. He can count on help from his former teammate Emmanuel Amuneke, who has been appointed as the team’s assistant coach.
How will the games turn out
Ghana will host the first leg in Cape Coast on March 25 before travelling to Abuja for the second leg four days later.
The Super Eagles will be the favourites on paper, but in a derby, form goes out of the window. Nonetheless, the three-time African champions will still fancy their chances, although they need to avoid defeat in the first leg.