In a section that will contain two teams forced to go through the first round of qualifying as well as Malawi, Nigeria must be favourites to escape from Group F. The Super Eagles have built up a reputation for lacklustre performances against underdogs, but with a roster full of top-drawer talent, the west Africans should have the power to reach the third round.
That said, Malawi have built a reputation for being a difficult win, capable of hanging on for results against the odds. In qualifying for the 2012 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, they came close to reaching the finals at the expense of Tunisia and Togo. Kenya and Namibia offer tricky competition for the other sides after the two breezed through the opening qualifiers against Seychelles and Djibouti respectively.
Although most sides in Africa would be happy with their record, Nigeria seem to be constantly struggling to live up to expectations. In this case, their supporters will be demanding a wipe-out as they try to reach their fifth FIFA World Cup™ in the last six instalments. How much the coach will stick with his well-known European contingent or try to blood new talent could be the interesting question for the two-time African champions.
Malawi: The Flames have never reached the FIFA World Cup finals, and they have qualified for the continental championship just twice. One of those was back in the mid-1980s, and the other was last year in Angola. In that event, they opened with a shock, knocking off South Africa 2010-bound Algeria 3-0 before losing their last two matches. It was a positive step, and they have continued the momentum in qualifying for the 2012 AFCON. They are the only side to win points off Botswana in the preliminaries – two draws – and they drew with Tunisia in Rades while taking four of six points from 2006 finalists Togo.
The crunch match
Although the likes of Kenya and Namibia are dangerous on their day, the contests between Nigeria and Malawi should decide who qualifies for the third round of preliminaries. A promising side, Malawi's experience and fitness levels would nonetheless seem to be well behind the international contingent of Nigerians. The two have never met in the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup.
A look back
Nigeria 4-1 Malawi, 7 June 2003, Abuja
In qualifying for the 2004 Cup of Nations, Nigeria all-but guaranteed their place in the finals with this victory. The Malawians opened the scoring in the eighth minute, but the Super Eagles put four past them still in the first half. The goals were scored by Nigerian icons Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Nwankwo Kanu.
151 – The number of goals Nigeria have scored in qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, equal with Tunisia for the most in Africa.
Did you know?
In each of their last seven FIFA World Cup qualifying campaigns, Malawi have faced one of the African sides that went on to the finals: Cameroon in 1982, Morocco in 1986, Egypt in 1990, South Africa in 1998 and 2002, Tunisia in 2006 and Côte d’Ivoire in 2010. They withdrew in 1994.