Who Laughs Last In This All-Important Football Match?
For football fans, it is yet another epic battle as the first leg of the two-legged double-header between the traditional, historical and bitter football rivals, the Super Eagles of Nigeria and the Black Stars of Ghana comes up tomorrow Friday 25th March 2022 at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi Ghana: kick off 19:30 GMT (8:30 pm Time in Nigeria) The second leg comes up four days later on Tuesday 29th March 2022 at the national stadium Abuja kick off 17: 00 GMT (6 pm Time in Nigeria).
The match, affectionately referred to as the Jollof Rice Derby from traditional rivalry between Nigeria and Ghana on who’s Jollof rice is best.
The qualifier is for a place at the World Cup Qatar 2022 coming up 21st November to 18th December 2022 and promises to be a game worth watching.
The stakes are very high and there can be no better and more important football match between the two countries than this one which is all about qualification to play at the World Cup Qatar 2022. The match will decide who -between Nigeria and Ghana- gets one of the five tickets to represent Africa at the Football World Cup Fiesta in Qatar at the end of the year.
On paper, Nigeria looks good to win the first leg (and the second as well) or at least secure a draw away and work towards a convincing win in the return leg in Abuja. However, what is on paper usually doesn’t translate to what happens on the pitch.
On current form, Nigeria is placed ahead of Ghana in the federated international football federation (FIFA) rankings but that cannot be the yardstick to decide the match. For example, Comoros island was ranked 132nd in the world and they still defeat Ghana at AFCON 2021 in Cameroon earlier this year. This is despite the fact that Ghana is ranked 61 and 61 places above Comoros in FIFA rankings. Indeed, the era of underdogs in African football is over.
Currently, in FIFA rankings Nigeria ranks 3rd in Africa and 32nd in the world while Ghana ranks 11th in Africa and 61st in the world. The rankings are obviously miles apart. Nigeria is way ahead of Ghana in current FIFA rankings.
Ghana has the advantage of playing the first leg at home although this may not always be an advantage. Usually, a team tries to get a win at home and then work to maintain its win at away hence playing at home in the first leg may ensure less pressure and more confidence in the return leg.
Playing at away could also be an advantage as the visiting team will try to avoid a defeat and work towards a win in the return leg. Either way, home advantage is a reality in football although that is not always the case.
Nigeria has quality, in-form and fit players who can ran riot against the black stars even in their own den but that may not be the end of it. Ghana will surely come out smoking even if to redeem their somewhat battered image at the ‘better forgotten’ African cup of nations in Cameroon early this year where they finished with only one point from their three group matches. Against all permutations, Ghana lost to minnows Comoros 2-3 and exited the nations cup at the bottom of group C. On the other hand, Nigeria also didn’t have a particularly good AFCON 2021 in Cameroon but nonetheless, the super eagles did much better than Ghana, winning all their three group games and snatching the maximum 9 points on offer only to surprisingly fall to Tunisia 0-1 at the quarterfinal knockout stage.
Confidence is very much a factor in football and the Super eagles are far ahead of Ghana in confidence right now. But what Ghana lacks in form, they have it in the ‘hunger to win’ mentality after their AFCON 2021 dismal performance in Cameroon. As a matter of fact, this is one match the Ghanaians think they must win to bring them back to reckoning in African and world football. It is a match the Ghanaians feel they cannot afford to lose.
The Super Eagles have a very good and promising attack that can bang in the goals. Two prominent forwards who didn’t feature in the last nations cup in Cameroon are in the team: Odion Ighalo and Leicester city FC winger new boy Ademola Lookman. I know Lookman is a big hit, sure to be there for a long time after watching him score a sensational goal for Leicester city against Liverpool in December last year. Leicester city won the match 1-0.
Odion Ighalo is a well-experienced striker and Lookman is a player I always love to watch. Lookman is sleek and lethal on the ball and can sneak and slice into any defence.
Arguably, the Super Eagles major areas of defect are in Goalkeeping and attack but with Lookman and Ighalo, the defect in the attack seems to be over. The super eagles have two highly enterprising and lethal wingers in Lookman and Chukwueze who can operate on both flanks. With Ighalo at the centre of the attack, we could all be in celebration mood by 11 pm this Friday. It will be advisable for coach Equavon to play one winger and one striker in a 4-4-2 formation. Moses Simon is another important player who can operate effectively and create chances for the super eagles. He is such a very intelligent player who reads the game very well. The Super Eagles can look up to him to win set pieces.
Captain Ahmed Musa has so much experience that will come handy in this all-important match.
Dependable midfielder and Leicester city ace Wilfred Ndidi is out with injury which leaves some gaps in the midfield but either Oghenekaro Etebo or Shehu Abdullahi can fit into Ndidi’s role.
First choice Goalkeeper Maduka Okoye will miss the tie due to illness but he will be replaced by Enyimba FC Goalkeeper John Noble who it must be said, didn’t really have enough exposure at the big stage but he can prove sceptics wrong if given the chance.
Ghana is also hit by the ban on highly experienced attacker, committed striker and captain Andre Ayew thus leaving the responsibility to lead the attack to his brother Jordan Ayew.
Ghana plays total attacking football so it is important that coach Austyn Eguavon adopts the 4-4-2 formation to replace the 4-3- 3 he used in the last AFCON tournament in Cameroon. The 4-4-2 formation can enable the super eagles to dominate the midfield and deny the Ghanaians the space to operate. The super eagles should play to create set pieces; free kicks and corners and even try to win penalties through a one-two run on the go in the Ghanaian box.
HEAD TO HEAD
Nigeria and Ghana have locked horns 49 times in football so far with Ghana winning 21 while Nigeria won 10. 18 of these matches were drawn.
So Ghana obviously has some extra confidence whenever they play Nigeria but that may not play out this time because the super Eagles are fired up to qualify for football world cup Qatar 2022. The stakes are too high for the super eagles of Nigeria to fail to qualify for Qatar 2022. It is unthinkable. Indeed, this is more than a football match.
Wishing the Super Eagles the best of luck to win against the predicted 1-1 draw
DR ABUBAKAR ALKALI Kuliya2020@yahoo.com
Convener, Movement for a New Nigeria (MNN)