The Friday encounter marked Finidi George’s debut as the substantive coach, with Nigerians hopeful despite the team’s poor performance in the first two games of the qualifiers, which ended in draws against weaker opponents, Lesotho in Uyo and Zimbabwe in Kigali, Rwanda.

Finidi George
Finidi George

The first sign of trouble came when some key players couldn’t join their teammates in Uyo for training due to a Labour strike on Monday, June 3, which paralyzed flight operations nationwide.

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Although the strike was called off after 24 hours, Finidi could not assemble the full squad, already depleted by injuries and the withdrawal of Bayer Leverkusen player Nathan Tella, until late Wednesday, less than 48 hours before the match.

On match day, the Super Eagles fought back after Bafana Bafana took the lead in the 32nd minute of the first half. After equalizing early in the second half, fans hoped the team, missing their captain William Troost-Ekong and star forward Victor Osimhen, would score the winning goal. However, the match ended in a draw, their third consecutive one, leaving them with three points.

Expectations were high that the Super Eagles would redeem themselves against the Cheetahs of Benin Republic, playing in Abidjan due to a ban. The Eagles took an early lead but conceded in the 37th minute. After that, the team became disorganized, with defenders Wilfred Ndidi and Calvin Bassey clashing frequently. Benin Republic scored the winning goal in added time of the first half, and the Super Eagles struggled for the rest of the match.

Despite the defeat, Finidi George remained optimistic, stating that the team could still secure a World Cup ticket if they win the remaining six matches. He emphasized the need for player commitment to achieve this goal.

The next World Cup qualifiers for the Super Eagles are scheduled for March 2025 against Zimbabwe and Rwanda, who are joint top with seven points alongside Benin Republic and South Africa.

The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF), headed by Ibrahim Gusau, is not taking any chances. After being summoned by the Sports Development Minister, Senator John Enoh, who insisted on a foreign coach, the NFF held an emergency meeting in Abuja and decided to seek a foreign technical adviser for the Super Eagles to salvage the situation.

NFF President Gusau announced that the foreign coach would take charge ahead of the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers and the remaining World Cup qualifying matches. It is unclear whether Finidi will remain part of the technical team or be asked to leave entirely.

Reports suggest that Finidi, who signed a performance-based contract, is considering resigning before being dismissed. He is reportedly frustrated with the NFF for blaming him entirely for the poor performance without acknowledging the late arrival of players to camp or the lack of support mobilization in Abidjan.

As it stands, the Super Eagles’ World Cup chances are in jeopardy, and the search for a foreign coach could further complicate their qualification campaign.