In the opening round of fixtures of Africa’s World Cup Qualifiers, Nigeria play host to Liberia on Friday.
The visitors reached this stage by beating Sierra Leone in the first round, while Nigeria enter in the group stage and are heavily fancied to reach next year’s tournament.
After reaching the knockout stage at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Nigeria failed to impress in Russia three years ago, as they dropped out at the group stage after a victory and two defeats.
A year later, Gernot Rohr’s side put together an impressive campaign in the African Cup of Nations but lost 2-1 to eventual winners Algeria in the semi-final following a 95th-minute winner for their opponents, before defeating Tunisia in the playoff to seal third place.
The Super Eagles then confirmed their qualification for next year’s continental tournament with a strong showing in African Cup of Nations Qualification, with 14 points from six games as they hit 14 goals to top their group.
Following a three-game winless run in the recent round of friendlies, Rohr’s men will be keen to bounce back and start their World Cup Qualification bid in style, with their sights set on reaching the global tournament for the fourth consecutive occasion.
They take on a Liberia side who reached this stage thanks to an aggregate victory over Sierra Leone in the first round in 2019.
Peter Butler’s men got off to a strong start in that encounter, as Terrence Tisdell, Mo Sangare and Sam Johnson got on the scoresheet in a 3-1 home victory, before they narrowly saw out the two-legged win despite falling to a 1-0 defeat away from home.
Since then, Liberia have won just two of seven matches in all competitions, including a slightly disappointing run of form in African Cup of Nations Qualification, as they finished third in their four-team group with seven points from six games.
While they managed to pick up a 1-0 win over Libya in the most recent round of friendlies, that victory was followed by a 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Algeria, giving their confidence a major knock.
They now go up against the odds in the qualification phase for next year’s World Cup, and will hope to start their bid with what would be an eye-catching upset.
Nigeria have called up a strong squad for the opening round of World Cup Qualifiers, even with Rangers duo Leon Balogun and Joe Aribo unable to travel.
In the absence of Aribo, Watford’s Peter Etebo, Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi and Brentford’s Frank Onyeka still offer impressive midfield options, while the presence of centre-backs Chidozie Awaziem, William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo makes the loss of Balogun manageable.
Leicester City attacker Kelechi Iheanacho will likely lead the line after enjoying a strong second half to last season in the Premier League, while Napoli winger Victor Osimhen and experienced attacker Ahmed Musa also offer plenty of quality going forward.
Midfielder Oscar Dorley arguably boasts the most ability in the Liberia squad, with the 23-year-old currently plying his trade for Czech champions Slavia Prague.
Peter Wilson and Kpah Sherman led the line in the recent friendly against Algeria, and they should both again feature in the front line with the support of Dorley from deep.
Meanwhile, Butler should again deploy three centre-backs, given the tough opposition, with Jeremy Saygbe, Sampson Dweh and Daniel Paye all set to start at the heart of the defence.
Nigeria possible starting lineup:
Akpeyi; Aina, Troost-Ekong, Awaziem, Sanusi; Etebo, Ndidi; Musa, Onyeku, Osimhen; Iheanacho
Liberia possible starting lineup:
Songo; Jerbo, Saygbe, Dweh, Paye, Bah; Njie, Macauley, Dorley; Wilson, Sherman