The Super Eagles kick off their campaign to qualify for a seventh FIFA World Cup on Thursday in Uyo. Between 16 November, matchday 1, and 10 October 2025, matchday 10, there are 697 days. This translates to 1 year, 10 months, 27 days, or 22 months and 27 days.
The Eagles must fly over Bafana Bafana, ensure the Wasps do not sting them, successfully swim away from Crocodiles, outrun Cheetahs, and battle Warriors to berth safely at the 2026 World Cup to be hosted by the USA, Canada, and Mexico.
The last thing on the players’ minds should be the diplomatic task of strengthening bilateral relations with the triple hosts of the USA, Canada, and Mexico. Last time out, it was this that hindered the Super Eagles from qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where Morocco flew the African flag to the semi-finals.
Demanding qualifying journey
The Confederation of African Football has devised a new format for the qualifying series, seeing as Africa will have nine countries qualifying and there can even be a 10th through a FIFA Play-Off Tournament. There are nine groups of six teams each, except for Group E, where Eritrea has withdrawn from the qualifiers.
Nigeria is in Group C with the Benin Republic, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Rwanda. On paper, this should be a breeze for the Super Eagles, but there are banana peels aplenty along the route if the Jose Peseiro-led team fails to actualise a concise strategy for each opponent and a pool of at least 35 players, injury or otherwise, that the coach will depend on throughout the campaign.
|Country||Nickname||FIFA World Rank||Squad Estimate|
|Nigeria||Super Eagles||40||$ 500,978,836|
|South Africa||Bafana Bafana||64||$40,330,642|
|Benin Republic||The Cheetahs||93||$17,272,682|
Respected South African journalist Mark Gleeson had his say on the Africa World Cup qualifying journey and described it as the hardest of all the confederations. Gleeson, writing in Reuters, said, “The long distances to travel, combined with poor and infrequent flight connections, extreme climatic conditions, Spartan facilities, and a culture of hostility towards visiting teams, have earned Africa’s qualifying process a reputation for being the hardest of the six continental confederations.”
The Eagles will play Zimbabwe on matchday 2, but CAF has moved the match to Rwanda because Zimbabwe does not presently have a standard stadium to host a World Cup qualifier.
In the last three qualifying rounds for the 2014, 2018, and 2022 World Cups, the Eagles played 24 matches. They won 14; drew nine; and lost just once. The Eagles did not lose any matches during the 2014 and 2018 qualifiers, but they lost once during the 2022 qualifiers, even though they did not lose to Ghana in the last round of qualifiers.
Nigeria vs. South Africa
Since their first meeting in 1992, the Eagles and Bafana Bafana have met 14 times. The Nigerians have seven wins against two losses and five drawn games.
Nigeria vs. Benin Republic
Their first meeting was in 1977, and the Eagles have lost just once in 16 confrontations to the Cheetahs, formerly known as the Squirrels. The Eagles boast 13 wins and two draws.
Nigeria vs. Rwanda
The Eagles have never lost to the Amavubi. In eight meetings, they boast five victories and three draws.
Nigeria vs. Zimbabwe
Their first-ever meeting was in 1981, and the Eagles suffered a 1-0 loss to the Warriors. Since then, they have met six times, and the Eagles have won four. The ban on Zimbabwe, which was recently rescinded, plays into the Eagles’ hands, and they should take advantage when they meet on Sunday at Stade Huye in Butare, Rwanda, which will be a neutral ground for both teams.
Nigeria vs. Lesotho
The Eagles have maintained a perfect record against the sluggish Crocodiles, as it has been four straight wins for the Nigerian team since their first meeting in 2006.
|1||Thursday||16 November, 2023||Nigeria vs. Lesotho|
|2||Sunday||19 November, 2023||Zimbabwe vs. Nigeria|
|3||Sunday||02 June, 2024||Nigeria vs. South Africa|
|4||Sunday||09 June, 2024||Benin vs. Nigeria|
|5||Monday||17 March, 2025||Rwanda vs. Nigeria|
|6||Monday||24 March, 2025||Nigeria vs. Zimbabwe|
|7||Sunday||31 August, 2025||Nigeria vs. Rwanda|
|8||Sunday||7-Sep-25||South Africa vs. Nigeria|
|9||Sunday||5-Oct-25||Lesotho vs. Nigeria|
|10.x||Sunday||12 October, 2025||Nigeria vs. Benin|
Advise for the NFF
Over the nearly two-year span of the qualifiers, the NFF must demonstrate proactive and strategic approaches to provide the coaching staff and players with unwavering support to secure the sole ticket in Group C.
This entails that the Ibrahim Gusau-led body refrains from second-guessing Peseiro on technical and tactical decisions. The NFF’s Technical Committee should be instructed to collaborate with, rather than antagonize, the Portuguese coach. The NFF has a history of imposing players on their coaches, and they must avoid this practice. They must meticulously handle preparations such as travel arrangements and accommodation before these crucial matches.
Logistical considerations like plane travel for players, connecting flights, securing standard hotels, arranging training pitches, and providing food when outside the country are essential metrics that can pose challenges and hindrances if the NFF does not plan.
The Eagles didn’t qualify for the 2006 and 2022 World Cups because of a careless attitude from players and officials, not because they lacked talent. It is said that Austin Okocha got lost while travelling to the camp for the game against Angola, causing the Eagles to lose 1-0 and miss the chance to go to Germany.
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