Super Eagles’ World Cup Opponents to Emerge Tonight

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Femi Solaja
The thorny path that the Super Eagles of Nigeria will navigate enroute to next World Cup finals in Qatar 2022 would be laid bare tonight as all is now set for the African qualifying draw ceremony at the Nile Ritz-Carlton in Cairo Egypt.

Nigeria since her debut at the USA 94′ finals has qualified for the final tournament except the edition held in Germany in 2006 when Angola, against all odds picked the final group ticket on head-to head rule at the expense of Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha led squad.

Although at the last edition held in Russia in 2018, Nigeria qualified for the finals even with a game in hand but this time around, the road to Qatar may not be same going by the qualification method the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will apply this time around.

Already, Nigeria seeded in Pot 1 along with nine others will certainly draw one opposition from the power-packed Pot 2 and among among the teams in the Pot are the trio of Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa – three teams that will definitely not be easy bones to crack for the Super Eagles, considering rivalries as well as the relative strengths of the teams.

They are teams Nigeria have had to struggle with in the recent past. Nigeria played 1-1 draw with Burkina Faso at the group stage of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.

Both met Burkina Faso again in the final match and Super Eagles laboured to a 1-0 win. Cote d’Ivoire are easily one of the biggest teams in Africa and Nigeria’s defeat of the Ivoirians at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations’ quarterfinal clash was dubbed as the major upset of the tournament.

In recent time, Cote d’Ivoire has become the bogey team for Nigeria. The Ivoirians eliminated both the Super Falcons and the Olympic Eagles from the qualification for the football event of Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

If Nigeria draw Benin Republic in Pot 2, it will mean that both teams are pitched in dual qualification for 2021 Africa Cup of Nations and 2022 FIFA World Cup. It will also be the first time both are drawn into the same World Cup qualification group.

The rivalry of Nigeria and South Africa took a major colouration three years ago when against all odds, Bafana Bafana inflicted a 0-2 defeat to the Super Eagles on home ground in Uyo, recalling an earlier upset of 2-2 three years earlier which truncated Nigeria’s qualification for 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

The Super Eagles got a last minute goal to upstage South Africa at the quarterfinals of the AFCON last year. The growing strength of South African football is further underscored by the fact Bafana Bafana eliminated hosts and Mohamed Salah-fueled Egypt from AFCON on home soil.

Apart from the trio of Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and South Africa, other possible opponents that Nigeria may draw from Pot 2 include Guinea, Uganda, Cape Verde, Zambia, Gabon and Congo.

In past World Cup qualification series, Nigeria had been drawn against Congo, Gabon, Guinea and Zambia in series dating back to 1970 to 2018. Nigeria overcame all.

Uganda and Cape Verde are the only teams in Pot 2 that Nigeria have never met in World Cup qualification series. Nigeria and Uganda have only met in the frame of Africa Cup of Nations in 1978 and also in the qualification for the 2008 finals apart from the friendly matches of 2015 and 2018.

According to the qualification method by CAF, only the group winners, consisting of 10 teams will qualify for the final round which would be a straight knock out that will lead to five teams that will represent the continent at the Mundial.

The ceremony starts 5pm Nigerian time in the Land of Pharoahs.