The Super Eagles have their eyes set on a seventh World Cup appearance but they need to take care of Ghana’s Black Stars on Tuesday at the MKO Abiola Stadium if Nigeria’s flag will be part of the 32 hoisted when the 2022 FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar in November.
After 90 minutes of gripping drama in Kumasi last Friday, the Black Stars showed they are no minnows. Their performance raised optimism that they can nick the Qatar 2022 ticket ahead of the Super Eagles even though history favours the home team on Tuesday.
Apart from returning to prayers and fasting, many Nigerian football fans have become pseudo coaches; suggesting ‘better tactics’ to be deployed by the Austin Eguavoen-led technical team for Tuesday’s tie.
While no one expects a stroll in the park for the Super Eagles as they confront the Black Stars for the 51st time since 1950, the prayer of many Nigerians is that the outcome follows the line of history.
As succinctly captured in a write-up titled ‘Ghana is beatable in Ghana’, by former Nigeria international, Paul Okoku, the age-long rivalry between Nigeria and Ghana is more intense than many know or even imagine.
While Okoku went down memory lane to serve a glimpse of what the rivalry looks like between these two great footballing nations, he was quick to give assurances that Ghana is beatable and history is on the side of Nigeria.
Though the instance sighted by Okoku wasn’t a World Cup qualifier like the Tuesday duel, he highlighted Nigeria’s can-do spirit when the occasion demands that.
He wrote: “As one of the players on Coach Adegboyega Onigbinde’s Super Eagles Los Angeles, USA, Olympics 1984 (qualifying) team, on October 30, 1983, we defeated the Black Stars, 2 – 1, in the return match in Accra, Ghana, when Chibuzor Ehilegbu and John Omohele scored a goal each. We lost to Morocco in the finals in Casablanca. Consequently, Morocco went ahead to represent Africa in the Olympics ‘84, otherwise, it would have been Nigeria if we had won that particular match.”
Nigeria is in a less difficult situation this time having recorded a barren draw and only looking to kill off the game in the second leg.
History repeating itself
En-route qualifying for the Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup, the Super Eagles were in a similar scenario and drew 0-0 away to Ghana before romping to a resounding 3-0 win in the second leg in Port Harcourt.
Just as we have it now with Austin Eguavoen leading the bench, the Super Eagles were ably led by a local coach in the late Amodu Shaibu who led Nigeria to the emphatic victory.
A first-half brace from Tijani Babangida and a strike from Victor Agali at the Liberation Stadium, Port Harcourt, propelled Nigeria past the Ghanaians.
Consequently, the Super Eagles picked one of Africa’s slots to the 2002 Fifa World Cup co-hosted by South Korea and Japan.
Aside from having the capability to turn the tables, history is also on the side of Nigeria in terms of scoring goals in World Cup qualifying matches between these two countries.
In fact, the last time Ghana scored a goal against Nigeria in a FIFA World Cup qualifying match was 49 years ago.
Beyond the permutations, the Super Eagles have all to play for as they meet the Black Stars on Tuesday.
“Of course to get the World Cup ticket will mean a lot to this team,” Victor Osimhen told the NFF TV, just as his older compatriot, Odion Ighalo, called on the God factor, “I know by God’s grace, we are gonna come out victorious.”
It is time to pray that history, which favours Nigeria, repeats itself on Tuesday.
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