Nigeria take on Ghana today, Friday, March 25, in the first leg of their World Cup playoff in what is setting up to be the biggest ever clash between the two former African champions.
Ranked as the continent’s third-best national team, the Super Eagles are the slight favourite to edge the 50th meeting with their eternal rivals.
On paper, head coach Augustine Eguavoen boasts more highly-rated players than his Ghanaian counterpart Otto Addo, but putting his best legs forward in the appropriate tactical set-up would be crucial to take a first-leg advantage back to Abuja.
Soccernet’s Imhons Erons highlights Nigeria’s ideal first eleven from the 25 stars at Eguavoen’s disposal.
Goalkeeper – Daniel Akpeyi
Eguavoen has a big call to make in the goalkeeping department in the coronavirus-enforced absence of regular starter Maduka Okoye.
From all indications, Francis Uzoho may get the nod to man the posts against Ghana, but Akpeyi’s experience could be more crucial in such a high-octane contest.
The Kaizer Chiefs goalie also has the stats in his favour, keeping five clean sheets and conceding only seven goals in 12 appearances in the South African top-flight. Uzoho has two clean sheets in six league games for Cyprus giants Omonia Nikosia, shipping 11 goals.
Defenders – Ola Aina, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Zaidu Sanusi
In defence, the centre-back partnership of William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun is the best the Eagles can present at the moment, with Hoffenheim’s Kevin Akpoguma not in the squad and Kenneth Omeruo only just recovering from an undisclosed injury.
The pace and strength of West Brom’s Semi Ajayi could come in handy against either Crystal Palace striker Jordan Ayew or Holstein Kiel’s Kwasi Okyere Wriedt.
But the former Arsenal man is yet to enjoy a good run in the national team.
Ayew, if he plays, is a tricky customer on his day, but nothing Troost-Ekong cannot handle.
Torino’s Aina and Porto’s Sanusi remain Nigeria’s best fullbacks. They should have enough in their bags to tame Genk’s Joseph Paintsil and Vfl Bochum’s Christopher Antwi-Adjei while offering measured support to the attack.
Midfielders – Frank Onyeka, Oghenekaro Etebo, Joe Aribo
In the absence of Wilfred Ndidi, Arsenal’s Thomas Partey, ably supported by power-dynamo Mubarak Wakaso, may find it a bit easier to dominate a two-man Nigerian midfield.
A viable solution could be to counter with three central midfielders. Onyeka, Etebo, and Aribo could get the nod, with Akinkunmi Amoo unlikely to make his international debut on a ground as hostile as the Baba Yara Stadium, Kumasi.
Attackers – Moses Simon, Victor Osimhen, Samuel Chukwueze
The biggest headache the Black Stars defence will have on Friday is Napoli’s livewire forward Osimhen.
Good luck to Leicester City’s Daniel Amartey and Bordeaux’s Gideon Mensah as they attempt to tame the young man who has scored a brace in each of his last two Serie A appearances.
Osimhen’s support cast could be Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis, Leicester’s Ademola Lookman, Kelechi Iheanacho, Odion Ighalo, Nantes’ Moses Simon, and Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze.
Simon’s brilliance at Afcon 2021 almost certainly assures him a starting place, while Chukwueze’s recent fine form in La Liga and the Champions League may see him edge into the first eleven.
Any of the others could make appearances from the bench to devastating effect.
With such a fearsome attacking unit in front of a decent defensive and midfield cast, the ‘Jollof derby‘ is almost the Super Eagles’ game to lose.