2026 WCQ: All eyes on Uyo as Eagles begin qualifying campaign against Lesotho
Nigeria will hope to get their CAF World Cup qualifying campaign off to a winning start when they welcome Lesotho to Godswill Akpbio Stadium for their opening Group C clash on Thursday.
In what many consider the group of death, Nigeria are favourites to top the standings ahead of Benin and South Africa, while their opponents here, along with Rwanda and Zimbabwe, are certainly capable of pulling off upsets.
Despite conceding a 1-0 home defeat to Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria topped their group at the AFCON qualifiers with relative ease, winning their other five matches to edge out The African Wild Dogs by two points.
The Super Eagles flexed their attacking muscles in that tournament as well, ending as the highest-scoring team with 22, which included a 6-0 demolition of Sao Tome and Principe.
Nigeria are now undefeated in their last five matches across all competitions, securing four victories and a draw, with a 2-2 result against Saudi Arabia and a 3-2 away win against Mozambique in friendly matches since the AFCON qualifiers.
Against Mozambique, The Super Eagles were caught napping early in the game and were a goal down inside the first 10 minutes, but goals from Moses Simon, Frank Onyeka and Terem Moffi before the half time break took the game out of their opponent's reach.
The African heavyweights were bitterly disappointed to miss out on qualification for the last World Cup when Ghana beat them on away goals, and they will be determined to make amends this time around.
Meanwhile, based on a very disappointing African Cup of Nations campaign, Lesotho looks likely to struggle in Group C, though a strong performance here could give them an early boost of confidence.
The Crocodiles finished at the bottom of their group that featured Zambia, Ivory Coast, and Comores and managed just a single point in their six matches, holding The Elephants to a 0-0 draw at home.
However, Lesotho did show major improvement in the COSAFA Cup earlier this year, where they topped their group with six points in three games and went on to reach the final, where they were beaten 1-0 by Zambia.
While it is arguable that they did receive their share of fortune with their draws, reaching the final of a major continental tournament would have given them heaps of confidence coming into this competition.
Victor Osimhen, who has been on fire for club and country over the past year, is a minor doubt as he has been struggling with a hamstring injury over the last month.
There are also question marks over the fitness of Taiwo Awoniyi, Bruno Onyemaechi, and Samuel Chukwueze, which could leave the door open for Moffi to continue in attack.
Three foreign-based professionals, Motlomelo Mkhwanazi, Bokang Sello, and Neo Mokhachane, were spotted linking up with the rest of the Lesotho squad ahead of this match.
Tshwarelo Bereng is expected to provide the creativity in the Crocodiles engine room, while Chinese-based Thabiso Brown will be hoping to lead the line in a 4-5-1 formation.