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Super Eagles’ path to 2026 World Cup to be paved on Wednesday

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Qatar 2022 World Cup glaring absentee, Super Eagles of Nigeria will on Wednesday discover who they must overcome to qualify for the next edition in Canada, Mexico and the USA.

The NFF president, Ibrahim Gusau will be among those who will be present in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for the General Assembly of CAF the event which will have as sideline, the draw for the African teams’ qualification for the next World Cup.

Employing seeding technique, the 54 African entries will be divided into nine groups of six teams. All eventual group leaders will secure places at the World Cup.

The best four runners-up will then go into play-offs and the winners join  five other teams in an inter-confederation tournament with two World Cup places up for grabs.

Were an African team to fill one of those slots, the continent will have a record 10 representatives at the 2026 finals, up from five in Qatar last year.

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For Wednesday’s draw, Morocco,  the first semi-finalists from Africa, Cameroon, Senegal and Tunisia who featured at the 2022 tournament and are among the nine first seeds for the draw along with Nigeria.

But the fifth African participants, Ghana, miss out and, along with eight other teams including South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have to settle for being second seeds.

Seeding for the Abidjan draw is based on the June FIFA world rankings and four-time World Cup qualifiers Ghana lie 11th.

Mali were the big winners in the rankings, climbing two places to eighth in Africa after a 2-0 victory over Congo Brazzaville in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.

Winning gave the Malians top-seed status and relegated Burkina Faso, 3-1 losers to Cape Verde in another Cup of Nations match, to second seeds.

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– Avoid giants –

The advantage of being among the nine top seeds is avoiding the giants of African football like Morocco and Senegal, last-16 losers to England in Qatar.

Lacking injured star Sadio Mane, Senegal did not match pre-tournament expectations, losing to the Netherlands in a group game and being outplayed by England.

But the disappointing showing by the Cup of Nations title-holders was forgotten as Morocco made history.

They topped a group including 2018 runners-up Croatia and star-stacked Belgium, then ousted Spain and Portugal before offering brave resistance before falling to France in the semi-finals.

Morocco made history despite a late change of coaches with Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic axed and Walid Regragui taking over having led Wydad Casablanca to the CAF Champions League title.

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After Morocco finished fourth in Qatar, France-born Regragui predicted Africa would end the European-South American monopoly of the World Cup “in 15 to 20 years”.

While all 54 CAF member nations have officially entered the draw, Zimbabwe have been suspended by FIFA since February 2022 due to government interference in football.

Unless the ban is lifted before the first two matchdays this November, the southern Africa country cannot take part.

When the 2023 Cup of Nations qualifying draw was made, Zimbabwe were included in the hope that talks would lead to the suspension falling away, but this did not happen and they were barred.

Zimbabwe were banned from 2018 World Cup qualifying after failing to pay a former national coach, Brazilian Jose Claudinei Georgini.

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The pots for the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers:

Pot 1: Nigeria, Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, Tunisia, Cameroon, Mali, Egypt
Pot 2: Ghana, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Cape Verde, DR Congo, Guinea, Zambia, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea
Pot 3: Angola, Benin, Kenya, Mauritania, Congo, Uganda, Madagascar, Guinea Bissau, Namibia
Pot 4: Mozambique, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Malawi, Libya
Pot 5: Niger, Comoros, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Botswana, Liberia
Pot 6: Lesotho, South Sudan, Mauritius, Chad, Sao Tome, Djibouti, Seychelles, Eritrea, Somalia

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

World Cup

Can of worms discovered in Super Eagles camp

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA

All is not well at the moment with the Nigeria’s Super Eagles who have gone seven World Cup qualifying matches since November 2021 without a win.

The dwindled fortunes contrast sharply for a team noted before now as the African sides with the longest unbeaten streak in the World Cup qualifiers. At time, they were unbeaten since losing through a late goal to Angola in Luanda on 20 June 2004 till 10 November 2017 when their 1-1 draw with Algeria was converted to a 3-0 forfeiture owing to NFF featuring an unqualified player. At  the time, Super Eagles had raked 35 unbeaten run. At another time from 2012 to 2013, the team had an unbeaten run of 18 matches from 3 June 2012  when they beat Namibia 1-0 in Calabar to 21 June 2013 when they were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay in a FIFA Confederations match in Brazil.

 Yet the same outfit has turned laborious after losing its flairs. A source close to Finidi George told Sports Village Square that the coach complained that the NFF just heaped all the blames of the team’s current precarious situation on him while exonerating the players.  

  He also reportedly remarked that the NFF did nothing to mobilise crowd support for the Super Eagles in the back-breaking encounter with Benin Republic in Abidjan despite the presence of large Nigerian community in the Ivorian commercial capital city.

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 A Benin Republic sports journalist confirmed this to Sports Village Square. The journalist remarked that it was true that there “were not many Nigerians at the Félix Houphouet Boigny stadium even though Nigeria has a strong community in the Ivory Coast.  I see that the defeat against the Republic of Benin really hurts.”

  Dr. Rafiu Ladipo, the President General of the Nigeria Football and other Sports Supporters’ Club (NFSP) had earlier made the same assertion on the neglect of crowd mobilisation for the Super Eagles and that those who made it to Uyo and had auto accident on their way back were not even given a mention by the NFF.

 He had since 1991 established the first of the international cells of the supporters club. They were not mobilised for the game against Benin Republic.

 On players attitude, a member of the NFF confirmed that the Super Eagles camp in Uyo was loose as players went to camp with their girl friends.

 That could also explain their dismal forms in the back-to-back destiny shaping encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.

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World Cup

BREAKING! Finidi George formally resigns

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

Nigeria Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George has resigned from his post as Super Eagles’ coach, two days after the Nigeria Football Federation announced it was going to employ a foreign technical adviser.

A source close to Finidi told Sports Village Square that Finidi sent his resignation letter to Ibrahim Gusau “3o minutes ago.”

 Finidi was said to be livid that the NFF leadership met with the sports minister two days ago, but failed to mention that players reported late to the camp and that they didi nothing to mobilise Nigerians in Cote d’Ivoire to come out to support the Super Eagles in last Monday’s match with Benin Republic.

“He complained that the NFF heaped all the blames on him”, said the source.

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  Calls to NFF officials to verify the information were not answered.  

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World Cup

UPDATE: NFF may spare Finidi George

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Under fire Super Eagles’ coach, Finidi George may excape sack afterall. A source close to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) told Sports Village Square that Finidi may not be sacked.

 He would however work under the foreign technical adviser that the football governing body is planning to hire in the next few weeks.

  The source who was privy to the Wednesday’s ‘hybrid mode’ meeting of the NFF informed that Finidi George will be designated as ‘Chief Coach’ while the expatriate will be the technical adviser.

It is however unclear how the NFF will foot the wage bill of the technical adviser, who may also come with his personal crew as Finidi George  also already have his own foreign assistants.

There is also no word on the loud absence of Daniel Amokachi who was designated as Finidi George’s assistant, but failed to show up at the Super Eagles’ camp leading to the ill-fated World Cup match day 3 and 4 encounters with South Africa and Benin Republic.  

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