Friday, February 1, 2008

Super Sunday: Ghana v. Nigeria

This weekend sees the traditional American holiday known as 'Super Sunday'.

It's not a true holiday, but in every sense of the word, the Super Bowl has become a veritable celebration in American culture. The American football championship is amplified even more for me personally, as I'm in New York City and the New York Giants (who actually play in the neighboring state, New Jersey ... don't ask) are in the game.

Huge game. Big celebration. Lots at stake.

But if you're a soccer fan, there's another monster fixture on the schedule: Ghana v. Nigeria in the quarterfinals of the African Cup of Nations.

Being an African football amateur, I'm not sure of the history and drama behind this game.

To better explain the significance, I hand the reigns of this blog over to the BBC's Farayi Mungazi, who has a much wider perspective on this tie.

Should be a spicy sports day for us football fans, both soccer and gridiron aficionados. Can't wait!

African football has over the years served up its fair share of compelling rivalries, but Ghana versus Nigeria outshines them all.

These two nations just love to knock the living daylights out of each other (in anything), but more so on a football pitch.

In my opinion, their rivalry is the one by which all others are measured and the Africa Cup of Nations will heat up on Sunday when they collide in a quarter-final tie in Accra.

As one Ghanaian journalist put it on TV the other day, "this is the only game that matters to every Ghanaian".

There is, indeed, something tasty about a confrontation between these two West African neighbours - particularly at the Nations Cup – where more than bragging rights is at stake.

“We Nigerians just love to beat Ghana even though they taught us the game in the first place,” said Segun Odegbami, a member of Nigeria’s 1980 Nations Cup winning side.

We can argue endlessly about the football pedigrees of these two arch-rivals but there can be no question about the interest and passion this fixture invokes in both countries.

So, come Sunday, fans in both countries will decorate their faces, put on their national colours and perform whatever rituals needed to spur their teams to victory.

There is no bad blood between Ghanaians and Nigerians – just a deep-rooted desire to be regarded as both the regional and continental top dogs.

There is an element of respect to this rivalry, though, with Nigeria envying Ghana’s four Nations Cup titles and Ghana envying the success of Nigerian players abroad.

Sunday will not be the first time these two teams have met at the Nations Cup – they have confronted each other five times at African football’s flagship tournament.

Their last meeting was as recent as the 2006 finals in Egypt where the Super Eagles won 1-0 in the group stage, to add to their previous victories in 1984 and 2002.

Ghana’s only win came at the 1992 finals, courtesy of a magical goal from Abedi Pele, but the Black Stars have not beaten their rivals in a competitive fixture since.

Not surprisingly, I have lost count of the number of Nigerians who gleefully point out that “history is against Ghana” going into Sunday’s showdown at the Ohene Djan stadium.

Overall, the two teams have met 59 times. Ghana lead with 24 wins to Nigeria’s 16, with the other 19 matches ending in draws.

That said, there is no point in denying the fact that the 60th confrontation sees the Black Stars take on a Nigerian side that looked extremely vulnerable in their group campaign.

But one cannot help having the impression that despite their woeful form thus far, the Super Eagles are still capable of turning this Nations Cup on its head.

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