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PREVIEW: Eagles, Black Stars duel in Marrakech with World Cup qualifiers in mind

PREVIEW: Eagles, Black Stars duel in Marrakech with World Cup qualifiers in mind

Nigeria and Ghana will clash in a prestige international friendly match in Morocco on Friday with the minds of players of both teams attuned to their Matchday 3 and 4 encounters in the 2026 FIFA World Cup African qualifying campaign in the first week of June.

The Super Eagles, with only two points from a possible six in their first two matches, entertain South Africa’s Bafana Bafana in Uyo before squaring up to the Cheetahs of Benin Republic away in the Matchday 3 and 4 games. Ghana’s Black Stars, with three points from beating Madagascar and losing away to Comoros, are up against Les Aigles of Mali in Bamako before hosting Central African Republic during the same international window.

While Nigeria are in Group C of the FIFA World Cup race alongside South Africa, Benin Republic, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Lesotho, Ghana are housed in Group I with Mali, Madagascar, Central African Republic, Comoros Islands and Chad.

Both teams, with seven AFCON titles between them, will duel without their top-impact players. Reigning African Player of the Year Victor Osimhen, Nigeria’s major fear-carrier to the opposition, has had to scratch the big game due to an injury, same as his opposite number in the Black Stars camp, Mohammed Kudus.

The Black Stars will also play Uganda’s Cranes in Morocco, while the Super Eagles are up against Ghana’s group mates Mali on Tuesday.

Both Nigeria and Ghana were tied 0-0 in their last friendly game – played in London in October 2011.

Just as Thomas Partey’s first-half strike that went past Francis Uzoho’s flailing arms sent Ghana to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in a 1-1 draw with Nigeria in Abuja on 29th March 2022, Asamoah Gyan’s header that flew past Vincent Enyeama in Luanda on 28th January 2010 sent Ghana to the AFCON final and Nigeria to the third-place match.

The Super Eagles have not beaten the Black Stars in an official match since the latter fell to a well-taken free-kick by Taye Taiwo in an AFCON group phase encounter in Port Said, Egypt 18 years ago.

On Friday, opportunity arises for new heroes to emerge as Nigeria bank on AFCON 2023 stars Ademola Lookman and Moses Simon, as well as Kelechi Iheanacho and Sadiq Umar at the fore to light up the Grand Stade de Marrakech.

Italy-based Lookman’s three goals sent Cameroon (two) and Angola (one) packing from the AFCON in Cote d’Ivoire and sent Nigeria to the last four.

Cyriel Dessers, who scored a delight against Mexico in a friendly in Dallas in the summer of 2022, and Nathan Tella are also available to Coach Finidi George.

At the rear, George is likely to stick to AFCON 2023 number one Stanley Nwabali in goal, and perhaps Chidozie Awaziem, Kenneth Omeruo, Semi Ajayi, Calvin Bassey and Jamilu Collins behind a midfield of Alex Iwobi and Frank Onyeka or Alhassan Yusuf.

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