The Super Eagles of Nigeria square off against Ghana on the 25th and 29th of March in a game that could easily shape the football year for either side.
Asides from the Qatar 2022 World Cup ticket, which is at stake, the matchup runs far deeper. The ‘Jollof’ battle between Nigeria and Ghana is yet to be settled, as both countries seamlessly switch to banter mode whenever the topic comes up.
However, who cooks the better rice is of little consequence, as it is just a way to drive home the rivalry between both countries.
The African continent has hardly been starved of Super Eagles Vs Black Stars matchups, and the battle of Kumasi and Abuja would just be two battles added to a whopping 49 matchups between both Nations.
Ghana and Nigeria head into the fixture with somewhat similar fortunes- both teams were knocked out of the last Africa Cup of Nations embarrassingly, and both sides have relatively new coaches.
Nigeria is under the care of Augustine Eguavoen, and he has been at the helms of affairs since December last year.
After a disgraceful outing at the last AFCON, Ghana sacked former manager Milovan Rajevac was sacked. And the Ghana Football Association appointed Otto Addo as caretaker coach, with former Brighton Coach Chris Hughton to serve as Technical Adviser.
Whilst the name Hughton might have experience written all over it, Addo has hardly burnt a finger in the coaching profession. The former Ghanaian international has never been a first-team coach. Since 2009 when his coaching career started, he has always served as an assistant. In fact, in most of those cases, he has hardly served as a deputy to the main coaches.
At Hamburger, he was a youth coach, and even In his last job at Borussia Dortmund, he served as a talent coach. The closest he has ever gotten to serving as a proper assistant coach was in December 2020, when he was appointed to serve as an interim coach to Edin Terzic, an interim coach at the time.
However, it is expected that the major brain that would set up the tactics for the Ghanaians would be Hughton. So Eguavoen has a tactical battle in his hands. However, the 63-year-old has been unable to pull his weight, especially recently, as he has been sacked unceremoniously in his last two jobs at Brighton and Nottingham Forest.
Hughton is known for his conservative and cautious approach to games, and the Ghanaians could set up in that manner, especially as the gulf in quality between both sides is very apparent.
That decision could prove costly to the Ghanaians, as Egypt tried that at the AFCON, but were defeated. Although Tunisia beat Nigeria at the AFCON with similar tactics, Eguavoen would hope that his midfielders are in high spirits to avoid repeating that disaster.
While the NFF has released the squad for the game, the Ghanaian FA has opted to keep the names of invited players close to their chest in what is still considered a laughable decision. That teams keep squad lists close to their chest is comical even to the newest fan of the game.
The Black Stars are not lacking players, but they lack top-notch talent. Their biggest player at the moment is in-form Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey.
The former Atletico Madrid player is expected to lead Ghana’s creative charge as he’s head and shoulders above any other member of the squad in terms of quality. Other young albeit talented members of the squad are Souleymane Kamaldeen, Mohammed Kudus and Fatahu Issahaku. Their fitness level however can’t be yet ascertained.
This is in sharp contrast to Nigeria, that has some of the best legs in Europe. Victor Osimhen, Emmanuel Dennis, Samuel Chukwueze, Moses Simon, to mention a few. And whilst Ndidi’s absence may be felt, Onyeka or a fit Etebo could help run the show from midfield.
With their shortage of attacking talents, the Black Stars could invite some relatively unknown stars.
Antoine Semenyo, who has been decent in the Championship this season with six goals and eight assists in 25 appearances, is one of the players that is believed to have been called up. But he has been ruled out of the game after he sustained an injury in Bristol City’s draw at West Brom on Saturday.
Daniel Kofi-Kyereh is another player believed to be part of the team. The 26-year-old has been involved in 19 goals in 24 appearances for St. Pauli this season.
Benjamin Tetteh, Kudus, and Felix Afena-Gyan are other stars that could be called up, but all these names are peripheral figures even on the African continent.
For Nigeria, a tie against Ghana is always a tricky one. The last time Eguavoen was sacked from a Super Eagles job was after a loss to Ghana, and that could come into play with the way Eguavoen could set up.
The venue for the first leg was changed from the Cape Coast stadium to the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi. Both stadiums hold almost similar meanings to the Ghanaians. The Cape Coast Stadium has hosted all of Ghana’s Qatar 2022 Worl Cup qualifiers, while the Baba Yara has been a major slaughterhouse for the Black Stars. The last time a World Cup qualifier was played at that stadium was in 2014, and Ghana destroyed Egypt 6-1 on aggregate. Also, In 2021, they mauled Lesotho 7-0.
Nevertheless, Nigeria have a monstrous away record. The Super Eagles have not lost away from home in over six years.
Nigeria are the slight favourites, but in their 49 meetings, both teams have eight wins apiece. But Eguavoen would look to put away the shadows of the AFCON in Cameroon and secure a World Cup berth for the three-time African Champions.
Managerial decisions may decide who carries one of Africa’s flag in Qatar, and the tinkermen have critical decisions to make. It’s all about who uses the pieces better.