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World Cup qualifying playoff: Black Stars to upset Super Eagles

BY: Daniel Kenu
File photo: Black Stars of Ghana
File photo: Black Stars of Ghana

The Black Stars of Ghana arrived in the Nigerian Capital of Abuja in high spirits yesterday via a chartered flight, determined to silence their West African neighbours in their own backyard today to pick a ticket for the 2022 FIFA World Cup tournament.

After an underwhelming showing at the recent Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroun, qualification to this year's World Cup in Qatar represents redemption for the Ghanaians who aim at upsetting the Super Eagles at the Moshood Abiola International Stadium this evening (kickoff: 17.00 GMT) to pick one of Africa's five World Cup slots.

The Ghanaians put up an impressive performance but failed to capitalise on their home advantage after a goalless draw with the Super Eagles in the first leg match at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi last Friday. But the team's high energy performance has raised hopes that they can rise to the occasion today against all odds despite the growing confidence by the home side who are approaching the clash like a World Cup final.

Home Pressure

Despite failing to beat Ghana in their last four meetings since the 2006 AFCON, the Super Eagles are under pressure to deliver before their home fans, aware that a defeat to their fiercest rival could puncture their pride and also deny them a place at football's biggest global gathering.

Interim Ghana coach Otto Addo is counting the positives from last Friday's performance and is confident his players will play a match of their lives with "cut-throat" performance, especially in attack where Felix Afena-Gyan, Jordan Ayew, Abdul-Fatawu Issahaku and Daniel Kofi Kyereh are expected to be razor sharp to execute the demolition exercise.

The star-studded Nigerians start as favourites, but matches between the two West African heavyweights hardly follow a form guide.

The Ghana coach will need a dominant performance in midfield from his skipper, Thomas Partey, to provide his famed cutting-edge passes as well as an improved performance from the gifted offensive midfielder Mohammed Kudus to cut through the Nigerian defence.

Kudus, whom the coach has described as exceptional, has a heavy responsibility as the playmaker of the team to turn things around.

"If the players are able to follow the plan we have all agreed, nothing can stop Ghana from returning to the Mundial after missing out at the last edition," Coach Addo said.

The coach is not expected to make major changes to his team but has a good bench to fall on, with Joseph Paintsil and Osman Bukari also available for selection.
Last Friday, the Ghanaians looked solid in defence and dealt with the threat from the Nigerian stars, with right-back, Dennis Odoi and left-back Gideon Mensah expected to keep the tabs on Super Eagles' danger men Victor James Osimhen and Simon Moses.

Nigeria Coach Confident

The Super Eagles Coach Augustine Eguavoen is talking tough and cannot imagine missing the World Cup ticket on home soil. Reports suggest he would unleash attackers such as Joseph Ayodele-Aribo and Kelechi Iheanacho early to unsettle the Ghanaians in the 60,000-capacity stadium.

“I respect the Ghana team but if you watch the match carefully, they never created any decent chance. We had two clear chances which if converted would have sealed the day for us in Kumasi," Coach Eguavoen said after Friday's clash.

Playing under pressure from the home fans, the Nigerians are expected to push more men at the laterals to stop the Ghanaian defenders from joining the attack to allow space for skipper William Ekong to freely operate in the middle to supply the balls to the attackers especially Osimhen who had a quiet evening in Kumasi.

But Coach Addo, who played for Ghana at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, is also bullish about his team's chances.

"We are focused and nothing can stop the Ghanaian train from going to Qatar," he said; a reflection of the confidence with which his players will approach this epic encounter.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian government has reportedly arranged for 100 buses to transport fans from other parts of the country to Abuja to fill the stadium, after the Confederation of African Football gave clearance for the stadium to admit up to 60,000 fans.

Similarly, the Ghana High Commission in Abuja is also mobilising Ghanaian supporters who will be offered free tickets to cheer the Black Stars to victory.