After missing out on the party to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Nigeria will begin their qualification journey for the 2026 edition with a home game against Lesotho.
The Super Eagles will be favourites not only to get the better of the Crocodiles but also to pick the ticket to the Mundial ahead of South Africa, the Benin Republic, Rwanda, and Lesotho.
The three-time African champions have endured mixed fortunes under Portuguese tactician Jose Peseiro.
Nigeria lost six of eight friendlies under the former Sporting Lisbon manager but had little trouble qualifying for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
The Eagles won five matches and lost just one, a disappointing defeat at home to Guinea-Bissau, scoring a continent-high 22 goals and producing the top scorer in Victor Osimhen with ten goals.
After beating Sao Tome and Principe 6-0 to round off that AFCON qualification campaign, Nigeria drew with Saudi Arabia and defeated Mozambique in friendlies last month in preparation for this game.
That run takes Nigeria to five games without a defeat and puts the team in a positive momentum against one of Africa’s last remaining minnows.
Lesotho are ranked 153rd in the world and are one of a few nations that have never qualified for the AFCON.
In the race for Ivory Coast 2023, the Crocodiles finished bottom of a group that had Comoros, Zambia, and the Ivorians, garnering just one point after losing five of six games.
The South African nation has won just two of their last 22 World Cup qualifiers, dating back to the early 2000s, and will record one of the biggest results in their history if they avoid defeat on Thursday.
Expectedly, Nigeria have dominated the fixtures between these two nations.
The Super Eagles have won all four meetings with Lesotho, scoring ten goals and conceding two while keeping clean sheets in three.
In their last faceoff during qualifications for the 2021 AFCON, goals from Victor Osimhen, Oghenekaro Etebo, and Paul Onuachu handed Nigeria a convincing 3-0 victory inside the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos.
Super Eagles head coach Peseiro invited 23 players for these qualifiers, with the notable omission of the injured duo of Napoli striker Osimhen and AC Milan winger Samuel Chukwueze.
However, capable replacements are already in camp for the encounter, with Victor Boniface, Umar Sadiq, Taiwo Awoniyi, Terem Moffi, and Kelechi Iheanacho among players who can fire Nigeria to victory.
Bayer Leverkusen forward Boniface impressed in his first two games for Nigeria, and Peseiro could ask him to support any of Sadiq or Iheanacho in attack.
Bendel Insurance goalkeeper Amas Omasogie has been called up as a late replacement for Udinese’s Maduka Okoye.
However, Francis Uzoho will likely man the goalposts for the Eagles against Lesotho, with Semi Ajayi and Calvin Bassey providing the shield for him in central defence.
For Lesotho, head coach Leslie Notsi has invited mostly home-based players. Still, three foreign-based stars, Motlomelo Mkhwanazi, Bokang Sello, and Neo Mokhachane, have joined up with the rest of the Crocodiles squad ahead of this match.
In a match where a draw would feel like a win, Lesotho will likely go for the 4-5-1 formation, with China-based Thabiso Brown the top candidate to lead the line.
Nigeria’s possible starting lineup 4-4-2:
Uzoho; Aina, Ajayi, Bassey, Onyemaechi; Simon, Iwobi, Onyeka, Iheanacho; Boniface, Awoniyi.
Lesotho’s possible starting lineup:
Moerane; Mkwanazi, Sello, Makepe, Malane; Lebokollane, Lesaoana, Mokhachane, Bereng, Sefali; Brown
Competition: CAF World Cup Qualifiers
Match: Nigeria vs. Lesotho
Venue: Godswill Akpabio International Stadium (Uyo)
Date: Thursday, November 16, 2023
Kickoff time: 5 pm (Nigerian time)
The Super Eagles have kept three clean sheets in four games while scoring at least twice in three of those games.
Tip: Nigeria 3-0 Lesotho