The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations Cup tournament, ongoing in Cameroon, has beamed the spotlight on the Super Eagles’ likely opponent when the draw for the last qualifiers came up on January 22. This will throw up Africa’s five qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup scheduled for Qatar from November.
In war, as in life, knowing the enemy, especially the inadequacies and the weak points of that opponent, is the best preparation tactic.
Nigeria is ranked fifth in Africa, which means the Eagles are in Pot 1, and can only face countries in Pot 2, which comprise Cameroon, Ghana, Egypt, Mali, and DR Congo.
The displays of the Nigerian team, in the past 12 months before the commencement of AFCON, engendered little confidence, and while we all want the Eagles to be part of the best 32 teams that will gather in Qatar in November 2022, there wasn’t much hope pre-AFCON.
In a damning verdict on the Eagles, the Cape Verde coach, Bubista, after that deflating 1-1 draw last November in Lagos, said, “Over both legs, we were better than a team loaded with talented players. It is unfair what we got from both games.
“The world has seen the Nigerian team and I am still standing by my personal opinion that they won’t make it to the World Cup in Qatar. Massive improvement is needed all round in the team,” he added.
That may have been the moaning of a defeated man, but his opinion tallied with what many Nigerians were thinking before Gernot Rohr’s dismissal. The question on every fan’s mind is ‘Can these Eagles beat the likes of Ghana, Cameroon, Mali, Egypt, and DR Congo-the likely five opponents in the last round of qualifiers in March?
Things have dramatically improved, and there is hope rising once again.
Therefore, PREMIUM TIMES crunched some numbers and got some opinions on how best the Peseiro/Eguavoen-led side can successfully navigate its way to Qatar.
PREMIUM TIMES spoke to four respected Nigerian pundits-Tega Onojaife, Ken Ochonogor, Deji Omotoyinbo, and Paul Bassey to find out which country Nigerians should pray to draw, or the ones they must miss out on.
First, the numbers…
What are the chances of the Super Eagles against Africa’s best?
On October 8, 1993, Nigeria achieved a first-ever qualification for the FIFA World Cup after five attempts.
The Eagles drew 1-1 with the Desert Warriors of Algeria to qualify for the 1994 World Cup for the very first time. It took the best efforts and leadership skills of Clemens Westerhof on the sidelines and a player like the late Stephen Keshi, on the pitch.
Now chasing the sixth qualification; there are about 60 days or fewer to the first leg of the last phase of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the Super Eagles of Nigeria, because their No.5 ranking by FIFA will face one of Ghana, Egypt, Mali, Cameroon, or DR Congo.
|Vs. DR Congo||6||2||1||3|
The Black Stars of Ghana
And we will start with one of the west African neighbours, the Black Stars of Ghana – Nigeria’s eternal rivals. The Stars finished as Group G winners with 13 points, tied with South Africa. There was a protest by the South Africans on the result of the last match, in which Ghana won 1-0.
The Stars scored seven goals and conceded thrice in the six matches and they are led by Milovan Rajevac, who led them to the 2010 World Cup where they were one penalty kick from becoming the first African country to qualify for the semi-final. They have been to three World Cup tournaments but missed out on the Russia 2018 tournament.
But disappointment at AFCON has led to a loss of confidence with the coach in need of all his experience to get the team ready for March.
According to the latest FIFA ranking, Ghana is 52nd in the world and eighth in Africa.
Their star players are Daniel Amartey, Thomas Partey, and the Ayew brothers-Andre and Jordan. According to Transfer Market, the value of the Stars is about $143 million with an average age of 25.9.
Nigeria has lost more than we have won against Ghana since the first meeting on October 16, 1950, in Accra. The Black Stars won 1-0.
Pundits’ Assessment: Tega Onajaife
“Even before Gernot Rohr was sacked, my heart chose the Black Stars. They were the weakest, and AFCON 2021 confirmed the fact. They are the easiest of the five teams the Super Eagles can draw on Sunday. Despite the intense rivalry and their better head-to-head record, I still believe Ghana is the weakest team left in the draw.”
Pundits’ Assessment: Deji Omotoyinbo
“My take about football is that it depends on your form at a particular time. You can be in good form now and when the game is to be played, you are in bad form. The truth is that they are all good teams. They are all teams that can beat you if you are not on top of your game. I will rather make a pick of the teams I would like Nigeria to avoid.
“I will rather avoid Cameroon and Egypt. These two sides have a bit of experience than the others. We (Super Eagles) have a better chance with any of the three remaining teams.
The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon
Next are the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. They are the African team with the most qualifications for the Mundial, at seven. The most talked-about participation was at the 1990 edition when the irrepressible Roger Milla led them to the quarter-final, where they lost 3-2 to England. That has been the one and only time they have made it out of the group stage.
The Lions missed out on the 2018 tournament because of Nigeria, who came out tops in the group, but the Lions also stopped Nigeria from attending the 1990 World Cup.
According to the latest FIFA ranking, Cameroon is 50th in the world and seventh in Africa.
Their star players are Vincent Aboubakar, Andre-frank Zambo Anguissa, and their charismatic goalkeeper, Andre Onana. Transfer Market places a value of about $158 million with an average age of 26.
Pundit Assessment: Paul Bassey
“I believe that the current Nigerian team, which is in Cameroon, has the capacity to take on everybody and qualify. Whoever comes fine, it is home and away, but this team gives us a lot of confidence. The Eguavoen team gives us a lot of confidence. We believe we can handle anybody and beat anybody.”
Will Nigeria will be at the World Cup?
Mr Omotoyinbo added, “Before this Nations Cup, I had my doubts. I was not confident at all, but from what I have seen in Cameroon, let’s say my hopes are rekindled. It doesn’t matter if they win the trophy or not, but I think we’ve gotten back to our core strength as a footballing country.
“We have gone back to the basics of what we are good at; pace, power, aggression, wing-play, comportment, and all that. If we play to our full strength, there is really no team to fear. I just feel more comfortable avoiding those two teams [Cameroon and Egypt] I picked earlier.”
The Pharaohs of Egypt
While the Pharaohs are legends in AFCON history, they have only been to the World Cup thrice-1934, 1990, and 2018. They have a world-class talent like Mohamed Salah in their ranks and that will count for something in the outcome of the two-legged tie against any opponent in March.
FIFA currently ranks them 45th in the world and sixth in Africa. Transfer Market values their squad at about $183 million, with an average age of 26.4.
Pundit Assessment: Deji Omotoyinbo
“For Egypt and Cameroon, I think they have a lot of pedigree and the home leg (away game for Eagles) might be very difficult because of the hostilities, crowd situation, and all of that. But for the other teams, not that they don’t have similar situations, but they don’t have the same pedigree, and frankly speaking, Ghana doesn’t look like a team that can score many goals once you defend well.
So, I would take any of the other three-DRC can also be dangerous, but on a home and away basis, we should be able to handle any of those three.”
The Eagles of Mali and the Leopards of DR Congo
Mali and DR Congo make up the five-country list and the Eagles have good head-to-head records against the two countries. The Eagles have played DR Congo six times – all friendly encounters, which might not be the accurate judge of head-to-head meetings, although the Leopards have the edge. This Nigerian team will believe it has enough to punch its ticket to Qatar.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria have not lost against Mali’s Les Aiglons since 1975, and in a two-legged encounter, the Super Eagles will fancy their chances.
Pundit Assessment: Ken Ochonogor
“I won’t go for Ghana and Cameroon because of our intense rivalries. Cameroon qualified from a tough group that included Cote d’Ivoire and their excellent run at AFCON will give them the confidence and boost to face any team on the continent.
“Add Egypt too, even with our better head-to-head and our recent triumph at the AFCON group stage. They are one of the most intimidating teams on the continent, and going to Qatar means so much to them.
“That leaves Mali and DR Congo. We have never had any competitive encounter with DR Congo, but they’ve fared well in the friendlies. I wouldn’t mind Mali or DR Congo, but if it comes down to the crunch, it doesn’t matter who we play – going to Qatar is not negotiable.”
Should we pray for Ghana? Abedi Pele once said, “The rivalry starts between Nigerians and Ghanaians at school and continues all the way to the biggest stage.” Or should we be praying for Mali, who have no victory against Nigeria in 47 years?
Whatever prayer is being offered, all Nigerian fans want and hope for is to be in Qatar in November, proudly singing, ‘Arise O compatriots’, with drums and trumpets, providing the beats for the world to enjoy.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To place an advert here . Call Willie - +2348098788999