Just 90 minutes stand between the Super Eagles and a ticket to a seventh World Cup appearance now. It is the most anticipated and potentially -explosive encounter between Nigeria and Ghana in their 71-year, 58-match rivalry. Nothing comes close to it in all their previous encounters.
After playing a goalless draw with the Black Stars last Friday in Kumasi, Augustine Eguavoen and his technical crew are very much aware that everyone is on edge now, waiting for the match to kick off.
Where will the pendulum swing after regulation time? Will it be Nigeria or Ghana smiling to Qatar? Will the game drag into added time and perhaps shootouts? A goalless draw after after added time will naturally drag the game into penalty shootouts. Score draw of any kind will automatically hand over the ticket to the visitors. It therefore is one game Nigeria cannot afford to lose by any margin. Shootout is not even an option because it is a lottery. It can go either way!
Apart from most of the senior players who have tasted World Cup actions like Odion Ighalo, Ahmed Musa, William Troost-Ekong-Ekong, Leon Balogun and Oghenekaro Etebo, Kelechi Iheanacho Shehu Abdullahi, etc, failing to win will be a major heartbreak for the younger generation led by Victor Osimhen.
One mistake Eguavoen cannot afford to make today is to repeat his two-man midfield that gave free rein to the Ghanaians in the first leg.
Below is reactions of some of the players ahead of the must-win clash with Ghana this evening in Abuja;
Odion Ighalo: It is Going to Be a Tough Game But We Will Win
“This is an opportunity for the younger members of this team to be at the World Cup. It won’t mean much to them now but when they finish their career and look back, it is then they will realise what playing at the highest level of football (World Cup) means. . I have been there before and looking forward to going to another one in Qatar.
“The Ghanaians are going to come out now and play because they have nothing to lose. We just need to give our 110 per cent to the game and hope for the best. It is going to be a tough game.”
Victor Osimhen: We are Determined to Qualify for the World Cup
“This match means a lot to me, not just me but the whole team. We are looking forward to this game. It won’t be easy. No game is easy in Africa anymore. It is going to be very physical. The ticket to the World Cup means a lot to us. We are hoping our supporters to support us with maximum support from the stands. With due respect to the Ghanaians who I know have quality players, we are looking forward to winning on Tuesday in Abuja.”
Ademola Lookman: Black Stars Are Strong, Competitive and Physical
“This is a special event, special moments, the expectations are high. For us, it’s about winning and giving our best in the match,” Lookman continues.
“Ghana is a strong team, very competitive and physical. We expect that but we’ll be ready.”
William Troost-Ekong: We Are Under Pressure But Will Qualify
“We are always under pressure playing for Nigeria everytime we are putting on the green and white shirt and representing millions of our countrymen and women. We know how much it means for us and for our families.
“Going to Kumasi and getting a draw I think it wasn’t a bad result and come Tuesday (today) we are hoping to secure the ticket.”
Chukwueze, Bonke Doubtful for Crunch Tie
Super Eagles winger, Samuel Chukwueze and midfielder Innocent Bonke remain doubtful for today’s crunchy second leg of the World Cup playoff against the Black Stars of Ghana.
Although the French Ligue 1 Bonke returned to training on Sunday and was initially believed to have recovered from the knocks he got in the first leg clash in Kumasi
last Friday, Eagles camp sources hinted last night he’s now doubtful.
Villarreal Chukwueze is is similarly a doubt for the clash tonight. He did not take part in the Super Eagles’ recovery session on Saturday and also did walk around on Sunday with his right thigh in bandage.