Bright Osayi-Samuel was the standout for Nigeria in a largely forgettable performance as the Super Eagles suffered a shock defeat by Guinea-Bissau in the first of their match day three 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying double-header.
Mamadu Balde’s cool finish under Francis Uzoho after 29 minutes proved to be the decisive contribution as Nigeria produced a largely flat and uncoordinated performance at home in Abuja National Stadium.
Losing football matches now appears to have become the favourite pastime of Nigeria’s national teams: the Super Eagles have lost four straight while the Super Falcons are riding a seven-match losing streak.
The latest defeat not only cost the Super Eagles their 100% record in AFCON qualifying but saw them surrender leadership of Group A to the Djurtus.
Coach Jose Peseiro now has the unflattering record of two wins from seven games with just one clean sheet — in their record 10-0 win against hapless Sao Tome e Principe on Match day 2 of the qualifiers.
There are rumblings that Peseiro’s one-year, $US70 000-per-month contract will not be extended when it runs out in June, as the Nigeria Football Federation looks to continue to implement cost-cutting measures.
The Portuguese was quick to play down speculation about his position with the team when the issue was raised at the post-game press conference.
“Why sack? We are still in the position for qualification,” he said.
“In the first half we create many opportunities but we could not score. It is only one match, we could have been here for another one hour and not score. Sometimes it happens in football. I am not happy, of course. But I believe in this team. They did the maximum but Guinea [Bissau] were very lucky and we had bad luck.”
Statistically, the Portuguese may be right given his team dominated possession and had more opportunities on goal. But their play was largely uncoordinated, and, with the opposition bunkering down deep, they rarely looked threatening.
The Djurtus, for their part, were content to surrender possession in non-threatening areas, and put bodies behind the ball when things got hairy. And they took their one opportunity with aplomb, Samba stealing in between the two centre backs to pluck a hoofed free kick and slip the ball underneath Uzoho.
The goal continued a troubling trend for Nigeria. They have conceded first in all their games under Peseiro, except the fixture against Sao Tome e Principe.
It is perhaps unfair to pin this all on Peseiro, however, given that Nigeria, off the field, have seemed determined to self-sabotage.
First, we had the decision to “rotate” coaches, which left first assistant coach Finidi George at home in Aba, not to mention the refusal to hand them contracts — which led to Ike Shorunmu pulling out from the team. And Peseiro has been paid only three months wages since he was hired last year.
And then there was the issue of training. For two days, power supply at the MKO Abiola Stadium failed, compromising the team’s training schedule ahead of the game.
Among the players, there was but one notable performance, with Fenerbahce defender Osayi-Samuel defending with poise and providing an attacking outlet time after time.
On the other flank, Zaidu Sanusi constantly went walkabout, leaving holes that Calvin Bassey struggled to plug.
Peseiro’s decision to frontload his team with attacking players and leave the midfield threadbare — with Wilfred Ndidi and Alex Iwobi — clearly backfired.
Ndidi’s match rust was plain to see, and Samuel Chukwueze just could not find his range. Victor Osimhen was left isolated and double-teamed.
Nigeria last lost at home in Nations Cup qualifying to Cape Verde, in similar breakaway fashion. Rohr’s Super Eagles went for the return leg and came back with a 2-0 result, and this team will need to match that effort.
“We know we have to react,” Iwobi said.
“We have to look at the game and what we can do to improve. The next game, we are going to do our best to get a result.”
A result is not what is needed. A win is.
Colin Udoh, ESPN