GettyGhana vs Nigeria
While both nations will relish the prospect of outdoing the other for a World Cup berth, claiming bragging rights in this regional derby represents one of the narratives heading into this double-header.
Having largely underperformed at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, Ghana and Nigeria seek a response to early exits in Cameroon.
Securing the ticket to Qatar will undoubtedly soften the blow of the respective group stage and Round of 16 exits at the finals, but only one side can come out on top.
In this feature, GOAL looks into the different elements that can possibly swing the game in either side’s favour.
BackpagepixNigeria’s issues in defence
While it would be easy to go along with the backline that featured at Afcon 2021, it is not quite simple.
Of the starting quartet in Cameroon — William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, Zaidu Sanusi and Ola Aina — only the Porto left-back has received significant game time since the continental showpiece.
The Watford centre-back has not played for the Hornets since New Year’s Day, Aina has not played for Torino this year and Omeruo has failed to kick a ball for Leganes in the last five games.
With Augustine Eguavoen unlikely to make too many changes to the team from Afcon, this poses questions owing to the aforementioned players’ fitness before facing Ghana.
BackpagepixWilfred Ndidi’s absence
If you were hoping for someone to help to mask potential issues at the back, Ndidi’s protection of the rearguard would have come in handy.
However, Nigeria do not even have that. The Leicester City midfielder’s absence complicates the situation for Eguavoen who may be forced to recalibrate his side in the middle.
Ndidi’s layoff could not be more ill-timed, leaving Nigeria with an uphill battle over both games.
Thomas Partey’s influence
With Wilfred Ndidi absent, Peter Etebo without significant minutes since September and Innocent Bonke (the Leicester midfielder’s replacement) still wet behind the ears at this level, the in-form Partey could dominate in the middle of the park.
The Arsenal star has enjoyed a rich vein of form since returning from Ghana’s dismal Afcon showing and could carry that into the pair of games against the Super Eagles.
Winning the midfield battle could make or mar Nigeria’s chances, so Eguavoen will enjoin his team to dominate in that area.
While Nigeria’s menace from wide positions caused opponents loads of problems in the Africa Nations Cup, the inability to be multi-dimensional against Tunisia ultimately cost Eguavoen’s troops a quarter-final place.
Channelling attacks with greater balance makes the side less predictable and harder to defend against, but it remains to be seen how the three-time African champions adapt against the Black Stars.
The Napoli frontman has been in red-hot form for Napoli in recent weeks but has not played for Nigeria since November.
There has been a change in the dugout since Osimhen last played for the Super Eagles, prompting a change in the team’s approach.
While the 23-year-old remains a menace on his day, there must be a concerted effort to fashion opportunities for the player at every opportunity.
If he has his shooting boots on, Nigeria’s chances of success improve.