In the final stages of CAF World Cup qualifying, Ghana and Nigeria play for a berth over two legs.
Ghana, the heroes of the 2010 World Cup, hit rock bottom two months ago. In the African Cup of Nations, AFCON, they failed to win a game in the tournament. This is something the Black Stars had never done before.
In years prior, Ghana embodied the standard of soccer on their continent. Now, the nation’s drought for major silverware is reaches its 40th birthday. Along the way, Ghana created its own demise.
In 2015, Comoros president Dr. Ikililou Dhoinine asked Ghana to send ambassadors and help his nation develop in the sport. Seven years later, the island eliminates Ghana from AFCON in a dramatic win, 3-2. Due to the abysmal performance, Ghana sacked head coach Milovan Rajevac, then in his second stint as gaffer.
Afterwards, a debate ensued among the nation regarding who should be the next head coach of the national team.
Ghana’s hunt for success
Revamped managerial setup
Chris Hughton and Otto Addo emerged as the finalists for the Ghana managerial position. Hughton drew acclaim due to his time as manager of Brighton and Hove Albion. On the other hand, Addo was an assistant coach at Borussia Dortmund and former Ghana international player. The decision surprised most people.
In the end, Ghana’s FA hired both candidates in an unusual arrangement. Addo serves as interim head coach. Hughton, on the other hand, has a title that displays his seniority and experience over Addo.
“There is a coach, but I have the role of technical advisor and my role will be to support the coach and the staff for these two games. But I am very much looking forward to getting back and I have a lot to offer,” said Hughton to Chronicle Live U.K.
The two assistant coaches are Mas-Ud Didi Dramani, a two-time Ghana Premier League winning manager and the former manager of Ghana’s Women’s National Team. Then, George Boateng, Aston Villa’s U-23 manager, is the second assistant.
The Ghana FA assembled an excellent staff to support Addo in his first endeavor as a head coach. But, they also compromised his authority. Ghana also considered Dramani and Boateng for the position of manager. As the interim head coach, the 2001-02 Bundesliga winner knows that if the team does not advance to the World Cup in their playoff against Nigeria, he is out of the role.
While the former manager, Rajevac, hails from Serbia, the current technical staff all have familial ties to Ghana.
For example, Hughton’s father is from Ghana. Addo’s parents hail from Ghana. Yet, he was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany, which has a large Ghanaian population. Many believe that being connected to the country on a personal level allows coaches to relay ideas to players in a digestible way.
In 1999, while playing for Dortmund, Addo chose to play for the Black Stars. He was a member of the team when it made its first World Cup appearance in 2006. In 2013, Addo became Ghana’s head scout. Therefore, he aided in identifying players while assisting the coaching staff with tactical game plans. Since 2019, Addo helped Dortmund develop talent and adapt to the Bundesliga. One of his best students is Erling Haaland, who gifted Addo a pair of Michael Jordan’s sneakers for Christmas.
Addo understands what is at stake in the final stage of World Cup qualifiers and believes the team is ready to face the challenge.
“Matches between Ghana and Nigeria are always difficult, but we believe in our players, we believe in our strategies and the unflinching support of Ghanaians as we go into these matches. We are Ghana and we have what it takes to come out victorious,” stated Addo after speaking to the press on Monday.
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World Cup berth between Ghana and Nigeria
The Black Stars and Super Eagles have one of the most intense rivalries in soccer. As nations, Ghana and Nigeria compete against each other in everything. The biggest debate is which nation makes jollof, a popular West African rice dish, the best. Therefore, the rivalry on the pitch is affectionally called, ‘The Jollof Derby.’
Entering this two-legged tie to reach Qatar, the Super Eagles won three of the last five competitive matches against Ghana. To make sure they advance, Nigeria bolstered its attack and saw a change of manager.
Like Ghana, Nigeria faltered in AFCON. Despite three wins from three in the group, Tunisia knocked out Nigeria in the round of 16. Consequently, the Nigerian FA fired its foreign coach, Gernot Rohr. Then, Nigeria replaced him with an interim coach, Augustine Eguavoen. He played on the team when Nigeria won AFCON in 1994. He now has the task of clinching a spot at the World Cup when Ghana takes on his Nigeria.
Eguavoen enlisted strikers Emmanuel Dennis, Odion Ighalo and Victor Osimhen into the team after the trio did not participate in AFCON. Before the March international break, Ighalo scored a hat-trick for Al-Hilal and Osimhen bagged a brace for Napoli. Clearly, their forwards are in form. They also convinced Leicester City winger Ademola Lookman to switch his nationality from England and to play for his ancestral home.
Next man up on both sides
Unfortunately, Lookman’s club teammate, midfielder Wilfried Ndidi, has a nagging knee injury. Therefore, he will miss the pair of playoff games for the Super Eagles.
On the other hand, Ghana lacks electric Rennes winger Kamaldeen Sulemana, left-back Baba Rahman, veteran Mubarak Wakaso and box-to-box midfielder Majeed Ashimeru. Finally, Andre Ayew, the nation’s captain and emotional leader, must serve his one-game suspension for a red card against Comoros. Fortunately, Ayew’s brother Jordan will be playing despite concerns over contracting COVID-19.
Roma forward Felix Afena-Gyan is in line to make his first cap for the Black Stars. Pace and finishing are crucial for the 19-year-old in this hostile two-legged tie.
When and where
Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, Ghana, hosts the first game on March 25. The Black Stars own a 75% win rate in this stadium since 2006. The decision to play at Baba Yara only came in recently. Previously, FIFA turned down Cape Coast Stadium due to a designation that it is unfit to host international competition. In a similar, albeit more planned move, Addo just named his squad on Tuesday to keep the Nigerians on their toes.
The first tie is on Friday at 3:30 P.M. ET and the second will be played on Tuesday, March 29 at 1 p.m. ET.
Stream both matches of this CAF World Cup qualifier between Ghana and Nigeria on ESPN+.
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