Two African powerhouses Ghana and Nigeria go head-to-head in the first of their two-legged play-off tie at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium, Kumasi Friday (today), as the final battle for a place at the 2022 Qatar World Cup begins.
Both countries have endured a fierce rivalry since they first clashed in 1951, when Nigeria emerged winners with a 5-0 win, but that was one of the few times the Super Eagles had cause to celebrate. In the 56 games that followed, there have been 19 draws and Ghana claiming victory in 25 of the rest.
The Eagles haven’t recorded a win against their fierce rivals in their last four meetings, losing thrice with one draw, and will hope to put an end to the winless streak knowing that a win in Kumasi will brighten their qualification chances.
They head into today’s game unbeaten in all but one of their six games in the World Cup qualifiers, amassing 13 points to finish top of Group C, two points above runners-up Cape Verde.
Austin Eguavoen’s side will hope to return to winning ways after suffering a shocking 1-0 defeat to Tunisia at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon last month.
“The rivalry is not only about football, but it is also about politics, it is about jollof, about music, acting, fashion, everything,” Eagles captain, Ahmed Musa, said.
“The last time we played against them in a friendly in Watford in 2011, it ended 0-0. But it was very tough, it was like a fight, on the pitch and outside.
“So, we know that this game is not going to be easy and we have to give everything we have in the first game before we come home.”
Prior to that defeat, the Eagles were on a six-game unbeaten run, claiming one draw and five wins.
Eguavoen will be without two key players Wilfred Ndidi, who suffered a knee injury and in-form Sparta Rotterdam goalkeeper, Maduka Okoye, who contracted COVID-19, but will be glad to have forwards Victor Osimhen, Odion Ighalo, Dennis Emmanuel and new boy Ademola Lookman in the squad.
On their own part, Ghana head into this game buoyed by the form of vice-captain Thomas Partey. The midfielder has been in impressive form for Arsenal in the English Premier League and will be key to the Black Stars’ chances of defeating the star-studded Eagles.
But they are coming fresh from an underwhelming campaign at the AFCON, where they suffered a shock group-stage exit after picking up just one point from three games in Group C.
The Ghanaians will be led by interim manager Otto Addo, following the dismissal of Milovan Rajevac by the Ghana Football Association following their poor AFCON outing.
Ghana will be without influential captain Dede Ayew, who is suspended for the clash but he’s been handed a late boost after news emerged that Crystal Palace forward Jordan Ayew would be available for the game after testing negative for COVID-19.