Ghana vs. Nigeria: A Comparative Appraisal

By March 30, 2022 Articles

Following the FIFA World Cup playoff tie between the two most prestigious sides on the African continent. We thought what best–but two have a comparative appraisal of these two nations – Ghana vs. Nigeria:

The “black stars” of Ghana and the “super eagles” of Nigeria have, over the years, displayed aesthetically pleasing football that will go a long way to inspire generations; a third being the “indomitable Lions” of Cameroon who made history when they appeared at every edition of the World Cup between 1994 and 2002. Beyond the boundary of the playing field, these matches fostered unity among ethnically divided Nigerians – the Igbos, Yoruba, and Hausas.

Previously colonized by the British Empire, both nations are some of the most colourful football rivalries in West Africa and a living testimony to the beauty in football: a booster to the socio-economic hub existing between both countries. As one commentator puts it “Winning in an encounter pitting Nigeria to Ghana is not enough anymore. Fans demand an attractive football.”  What promised to be a long-lasting campaign full of antics and tactics turned speculations to Qatar 2022 Qualifiers as the two countries clashed again for another historic derby, that is currently full of assertions of superiority by both sides.

Oldest and most proliferate rivalry: Where did it start?

Although FIFA archives the first official match – more precisely the first official International “A” match – between both countries as a 1960 World Cup qualifier, they both contested domestic friendlies and tournaments before 1950, notably between the much-respected Gold Coast Elites (Now Ghana) and the seemingly “Red Devils” newbies of Nigeria. Actually, at this time, both teams played with no shoes.

What exactly makes this colourful contest loosely referred to as a “jellof-debby” by multitudes of supporters’ spectacular? Any attempted answer has proven to vary proportionately with the ideas of the explainer, yet the bottom line remains that, of the 56 official matches played back-to-back each other, Ghana leads with a 25 all-around victory against Nigeria with 12, while 19 of such encounters ended in a fruitless draw.

The Early Days

The consecutive contentions between both teams began, albeit unofficially, in 1938 at the King George V Stadium, Onikan grounds, with hosts, Nigeria beating their counterpart, the Gold Coast 3-1. This has often waned in popularity through the ages, acting as the pacesetter for future competitions, including:

  • 1951–59 Jalco Cup

Organized under the banner of the Jalco Group (J.Allen & Co.) – a Nigerian based Company – and sponsored under the Ford Motor Company by way of subsidiary, this competition was played on eight occasions between Nigeria and Gold Coast: Nigeria in a 5-0 win in 1951; 3-0 in 1954 & 1956; and 3-2 win in 1958, whereas Gold Coast led in 1953, 1-0; 1955, 7-0 and through to the final edition in 1959, 5-2, keeping hold of the trophy which ended that same year. Its name – the Jalco Cup – came from its organizers and the venue altered between the two countries in a repetitive interchanging paradigm. In the event of a tie, the teams had to share the cup and the competition was halted by a 1952 suspension due to political problems in the Gold Coast.

  • 1959–67 Dr Kwame Nkrumah Gold Cup

After attaining independence in 1957, Gold Coast became the independent nation of Ghana, and the country’s politicians, alongside a West African Federation made of Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast harbored ambitions of competing in Olympic games that had been around since April 6, 1986. To this end, a conference was organized to create a West African Soccer Federation that saw a preliminary competition set up, and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the institution’s life patron, promised to donate a gold cup as the trophy for the competition. The Jalco tournament was then replaced by a much geographically wider Nkruma cup that, amidst immense organizing vulnerabilities, still saw two matches played between Ghana and Nigeria, one of which was a 3-0 Ghanaian victory over Nigeria.

  • 1961–67 Azikiwe Cup

The Azikiwe trophy, an initiative of Nigeria’s first post-colonial president, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, conceived initially under the same rotating, single-match Jalco confrontations between Nigeria and Ghana was introduced in 1961. Indeed, the competition ensued under a similar Jalco approach, but was altered shortly to include aggregate home and away matches, with each team hosting the matches one after the other. Ghana either won or retained the trophy throughout and where a match had no winner like in 1962 when the Ghana-Nigeria aggregate ended 0-0, Ghana retained the trophy it had initially won in the competition in 1961. All these competitions served as the founding pillar for the next generation of professional footballers who will raise awareness of the continent’s rising talents.

The entering the of modern age Football

From the beginning of the 1960s, the entertaining playing styles displayed during the Azikiwe cup seized the imaginations of fans and attracted the European bureaucrats, media, and sponsors, who pioneered a collective check alongside frontline soccer loves such as Ethiopian Ydnekachew Tessema, Egyptian Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem, among others, to introduce new streams of competitions in the continent.

  • The African Cup of Nations, CEDEAO Cup, LG Cup, and the Pan African Games.

During the Azikiwe cup, the Ghanaians invented a baptism of fire against the Nigerians, a continuing dominance that leveled up swiftly during the 1961 African Cup of Nations Qualifiers in a 1st leg: 0-0, 2nd leg: 2-2 draw, and continued across the mid-1970s, in a 1-1 group qualifier tie during the 1978 African Nation’s Cup, and a 0-0 tie during the 1978 Pan African Games. During their next game in the 1984 African Nation’s cup, then prized Nigerian giants broke this supremacy with a topper 2-1 defeat against the Ghanaian side. This triumph was however short-lived.

Qatar 2022

Fast forward four decades, and to Thomas Partey crucial away goal in Abuja. With now 57 games played between these two adverseries. The World Cup playoff tie between Ghana and Nigeria not only provides passage to Qatar. But adds another chapter to this historic novel between these two nations. Until next time….

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Written by James Orien


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