Two of West Africa’s biggest football heavyweights clash first on Friday and also on Tuesday to determine who progress to the Mundial in Qatar
Ghana host Nigeria on Friday, March 25, at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi in the first match of their two-legged final qualifying playoff for the 2022 FIFA World.
It promises to be a pulsating encounter between two West African brothers, boasting a combined eight Africa Cup of Nations titles between them, and are acclaimed eternal rivals both on the pitch and out of it.
The battle of Kumasi will be the 50th meeting between Ghana and Nigeria since they first met in an international friendly in October 1950. And with a World Cup ticket at stake, these qualifying deciders could be the most important fixture between the two.
During the group stages of the World Cup qualifiers, Nigeria secured the top spot by winning four and drawing one of their six matches to finish two points above hard-fighting Cape Verde.
The Super Eagles were not impressive in the latter phase of that round, resulting in the sack of long-serving German manager Gernot Rohr. The three-time continental champions, however, regained some of their old swaggers under interim boss Augustine Eguavoen during Afcon 2021 in Cameroon.
But, after leading his men to three straight victories in the competition’s group stages, Eguavoen’s Eagles crashed out at the round of 16, and he will aim for redemption against an unpredictable Ghana.
No one knows what to expect from a Ghanaian side that also impressed in 2021 but changed managers in January following a disappointing Afcon.
Five-time Afcon kings Ghana needed an Andre Ayew penalty to edge past South Africa and make it to this final playoff round.
But the Black Stars drew against Gabon and suffered a defeat to Morocco and a shocking loss to Comoros to leave Cameroon on a low.
But a chance to play at the summit of football is enough motivation for everyone in interim coach Otto Adoo’s team to fight their hearts out and give their all against Nigeria on game day.
The Super Eagles undoubtedly have the best attack on the continent, with Eguavoen able to add Leicester City winger Ademola Lookman and Watford’s star man Emmanuel Dennis to a side that already possesses tremendous firepower in Napoli’s Victor Osimhen, 2019 Afcon goal-king Odion Ighalo, and Almeria’s Umar Sadiq.
Midfield dynamo Wilfred Ndidi, however, misses out due to injury, while first-choice goalkeeper Maduka Okoye has been replaced after testing positive for COVID-19. Everton’s Alex Iwobi is suspended.
There are also concerns in the Eagles’ defence as key men William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, and Ola Aina arrived camp in varying degrees of match fitness.
Ghana are not without their issues as well, with Andre Ayew’s suspension and Kamaldeen Sulemana’s injury two huge blows for their country.
Still, coach Adoo has called up 27 players, including Arsenal star Thomas Partey, Leicester City’s Daniel Amartey, and Bochum forward Christopher Antwi-Adjei.
There could be maiden appearances for AS Roma’s youngster Felix Afena-Gyan and former Belgium youth international defender Denis Odoi, with the duo earning their first invitations.
OLD FOES— Saddick Adams (@SaddickAdams) March 23, 2022
Ghana Black Stars vs Nigeria Eagles
21st November 1959.
Accra Sports Stadium.
Ghana 5-2 Nigeria pic.twitter.com/XCWBIPeWkq
Ghana have dominated the head-to-head stats against Nigeria, winning 21 games, drawing 18, and losing only 10.
The Super Eagles enjoyed a brilliant 12-year unbeaten run over the Black Stars, though, between 1994 and 2006, losing none of nine games, including five wins. But Ghana have won three and drawn one of the last four matches contested by the duo.
Both are evenly matched during FIFA World Cup qualifiers, though, registering two wins, four draws, and two losses each.
Ghana possible starting XI (4-2-3-1):
Wolacott; Mensah, Amartey, Djiku, Yiadom; Partey, Wakaso; Paintsil, Kudus, Antwi-Adjei; Wriedt
Nigeria possible starting XI (4-4-2):
Uzoho; Sanusi, Troost-Ekong, Balogun, Aina; Onyeka, Aribo, Simon, Chukwueze; Ighalo, Osimhen
Pushed on by football-crazy supporters inside their traditional slaughter slab, the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, Ghana will take the fight to Nigeria from the blast of the referee’s whistle.
But the Super Eagles have better quality players who can weather the storm and hurt the Black Stars.
Tip: Ghana 1 – 2 Nigeria