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WC Qualification Africa

Where to next for Nigeria after World Cup failure?

17:09 SAST 2022/03/30
Leon Balogun, Victor Osimhen, Moses Simon - Nigeria
Tuesday’s draw in Abuja means the Super Eagles will not compete at the global showpiece for the first time since 2006

When Umar Sadiq replaced Calvin Bassey with two minutes of normal time remaining on Tuesday, you could already sense the desperation.

Augustine Eguavoen was essentially throwing the kitchen sink at Ghana hoping to secure an all-important goal that would have been enough to ensure the three-time African champions’ participation in Qatar.

At the time, Nigeria had no less than three centre-forwards on the pitch, with the Almeria frontman joining Victor Osimhen and Odion Ighalo as the hosts chased a decisive strike to complete a turnaround.

Throw in Moses Simon — who replaced Ademola Lookman on the hour — and Ahmed Musa — who was introduced for Peter Etebo in the final quarter — and the Super Eagles had no less than five forwards on the pitch at the final whistle.

Caution was thrown out the window but without any sensible plan of really breaking down the Black Stars’ defence. It reflects badly on Nigeria’s coaching crew whose broader approach and in-game decisions have left much to be desired.

Long-suffering supporters endured the final 18 months of Gernot Rohr’s reign but seemingly are not close to seeing a talented group of players play consistently well.

The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations offered promise, with Eguavoen’s troops claiming maximum points from their opening group games.

However, their elimination at Afcon and the double-header against Ghana look to suggest those wins over Egypt, Sudan and Guinea-Bissau were false dawns.

What rankles even more than the results in those games are the performances, which fell way short of the talent of the side. Rohr, while largely meeting minimum targets, could not get this group to evolve into a dominant, well-coached side. Eguavoen has inherited the same issues and his team seems even more one-dimensional now that the new manager bounce has worn off.

The upshot of Tuesday’s mess means the West African giants will be absent from the finals in Qatar. The fact it comes at the expense of a Ghana side they loathe rubs salt to the wound, despite not being outplayed by the Black Stars over both legs.

Taking away every shade of nuance, Nigerians could feel hard done by following their failure owing to the quality of promising openings and clear-cut chances over both games. The Black Stars’ only goal came from a somewhat weak Thomas Partey effort which Francis Uzoho made a hash of.

While Joseph Wollacott aided his team’s success with fine stops in the tie, Uzoho’s brilliance was limited to the encounter in Kumasi.

On top of that, the inability to take any of the few opportunities fashioned adds to the dissatisfaction of how qualifying played out, even if performances for the most part were underwhelming.

While it is a largely young group, many of the core individuals ought to be in their prime years when the 2026 World Cup comes around, theoretically increasing Nigeria’s prospects of participating in the next four years.

With the expanded tournament to be held in Canada, Mexico and the United States comprising 48 nations — with nine slots going to Africa, as opposed to five — it will take a huge screw up to miss out on the 2026 edition.

Be that as it may, it does not lessen the regret of missing out this time, especially against a Ghana side that exited Afcon early and one of the worse iterations in recent years.

A lot can happen in four years, but Nigeria have to look forward now and put Tuesday’s pain and discontent behind them.