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AFCON Qualifier: Nothing is “Free in Freetown”

 AFCON Qualifier: Nothing is “Free in Freetown”

By Bassey Ibiatisuho

Nigerian football fans are yet to understand the ‘Benin Drama’ of November 13, 2020 when the Super Eagles of Nigeria threw away a comfortable lead of 4 goals and ended up escaping narrowly from losing the game to the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone if time had extended.

For the records, that was Sierra Leone’s biggest comeback in their football history and it happened live at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City, the Edo State capital.

The Sweet-to-Bitter tale has left Nigerian fans pointing fingers at so many things as factors responsible for that embarrassing loss; team selection, tactical input, inexperienced technical crew, unserious training sessions with politicians, team distraction, stadium among others. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but if these opinions are ignored, the lacklustre display by the Super Eagles team in Benin may just be the beginning of many more to come.

The captain, Ahmed Musa who had a night to forget has come out to apologize, promising better result in Freetown on Tuesday, November 17. The NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, one of those who joined the Super Eagles training session said “Since I became the NFF president, this is the worst result I have ever seen. In the next few days, I wonder how I’m going to sleep. This isn’t because we won’t qualify for AFCON but it’s our last home game for the year.”

No doubt in football, you win, draw or lose and this is not the first time the Super Eagles of Nigeria has drawn a match or even lose, but drawing after leading by 4 goals is a very painful outcome. Nigeria still leads the group and will qualify for AFCON 2021 but that result in Benin will never be forgotten, the fans are unforgiving.

Musa called the outcome a “mistake” and this may not be far from what they assumed before kickoff that Sierra Leone is a small team, but the question should be how has the Super Eagles improved in the last couple of years in order not to be a match to the Leone Stars? After four years, Coach Gernot Rohr is still looking for a number one goalkeeper, the defence not solid enough, midfield is not stable and the attack still needs sharpening. After four years, its a trial and error for the Super Eagles in players and home venue for matches.

Benin is gone, Freetown is next and as usual the team through the captain has promised an outright victory against their host on Tuesday. Should Nigerians believe this? The game in Freetown is not going to come cheap, if it were, everything has now changed. The Leone Stars have more confident going into that game on home soil and the Super Eagles have a lot to prove to the fans back home.

From the NFF, to the Technical Crew and the players, the game in Freetown will be their most important game in a Covid-19 ravaged 2020. It will be important for Coach Rohr to technically analyze the team’s performances from the two friendlies in October against Algeria and Tunisia and the qualifier against Sierra Leone to field his best legs in Freetown because a lot hangs around that game. 

If they think they can stroll into the West African country and get what they want for free, then there will be another shock. If it was not easy in Benin, then nothing is going to be free in Freetown.

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