Ghana vs Nigeria: Eguavoen’s Super Eagles must rise above quandaries

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Will Augustine Eguavoen find solutions to problems against Ghana, will he have answers to questions?

These queries appear pertinent with Nigeria set to do battle with the Black Stars on Friday in the first of two meetings over the next few days. Both nations face off knowing full well there are remnants of disappointment following unsuccessful Africa Cup of Nations campaigns a couple of months back.

For Ghana, their group stage exit was a first since 2006, having made it to the knockout rounds six times on the trot. For Nigeria, their failure to adapt and take chances led to a Round of 16 elimination at the hands of Tunisia.

Augustine Eguavoen
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While there has been a change in management at the former, the Super Eagles retained Eguavoen after the finals and have brought in Emmanuel Amunike as assistant head coach.

Even though doubts remain over Eguavoen’s technical expertise, green shoots at Afcon suggest the Nigeria Football Federation probably made the right decision keeping the 1994 Afcon winner at the helm.

Supporters already expected little in Cameroon anyway owing to the 56-year-old’s late appointment on the eve of the finals, a situation that was not helped when key players and useful squad members could not be counted on in Cameroon.

However, fast forward two months and the situation could not be more different.

Nigerians demand a reaction. They want the side participating in Qatar later this year and the prospect of crushing their West African rivals en route to the World Cup finals adds to that motivation and desire.

While supporters are excited about the attacking potential of this side, there must be substantial concern over other areas, with injuries to key players and fears over the match fitness of a plethora of expected starters.

Indeed, Wilfred Ndidi’s non-involvement is a huge blow, to say the least.

Alex Iwobi, Wilfred Ndidi - Nigeria
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With the Super Eagles, by and large, unable to call upon any replacement as reliable as the Leicester City man, they suffered a setback to a player who is near irreplaceable.

Peter Etebo has played just 17 competitive minutes since returning from a knee injury that kept him out since September, Frank Onyeka has barely played for Brentford since returning from Afcon and Innocent Bonke is still inexperienced at this level.

In defence, perhaps lie even greater issues.

While the three-time West African champions appear well-stocked in that area, a closer look ought to concern observers before facing Ghana.

Of the starting quartet in Cameroon — William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, Zaidu Sanusi and Ola Aina — only the Porto left-back has received significant game time since the continental showpiece.

Omeruo, Troost-Ekong
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Troost-Ekong has not featured for Watford since a New Year’s Day encounter with Tottenham Hotspur, Aina has not featured for Torino in 2022 while Omeruo has missed five games on the trot for Leganes leading to the international break, with his last appearance coming just over a month back.

And it would be remiss to ignore Maduka Okoye’s withdrawal through injury, with Francis Uzoho — who still divides opinion among observers — likely to start against the Black Stars.

Regardless of the headaches, Eguavoen has seemed confident before both sides face-off on Friday.

“It's a special game indeed,” the Super Eagles trainer told CafOnline this week. “It's the final game of the qualifiers, the first and the second leg determines our place in the World Cup in Qatar, but I guarantee we are well prepared, every member of the team is working round the clock as Ghana is not a pushover.

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Augustine Eguavoen
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“We only do our best and put in hard work as it pays, put in dedication, the boys are self-motivated. With this, I am sure we will cross the line.”

Eguavoen’s bullishness is recognised, but this will count for little if his Super Eagles falter over the next two games.

In a sense, you sense how he handles issues in defence and midfield will make or mar Nigeria’s prospects against the Black Stars.