NIGERIA has moved a step closer towards qualifying for the 2021 African Cup of Nations despite two below-par performances after the Super Eagles played out a barren draw with the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone on Freetown today.
Last Friday, the Eagles played a woeful draw at home after they surrendered a 4-0 lead at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin , allowing the Sierra Leonians come back and draw the game 4-4. Today, the Eagles played another embarrassing draw as the return leg at the Siaka Stevens Stadium in Freetown ended 0-0.
Despite failing to win either game, however, the Eagles remain top of their qualification group with eight points, thank to two early victories against Benin Republic and Lesotho. Benin Republic are in second place with seven points after also playing a 0-0 draw to Lesotho away in Maseru.
Sierra Leone are in third place with three points, while Lesotho are fourth with just two points. On March 22 next year, the Super Eagles will face Benin Republic away in Cotonou and on March 30 will play their final group game at home to Lesotho.
A total of 24 teams will qualify to play in the final tournament, including Cameroon who qualified automatically as hosts. This means that Nigeria just has to finish among the top two teams in her group to qualify for the tournament taking place in Cameroon next year.
Most fans had been expecting the Eagles to win both games against Sierra Leone and secure qualification but after failing to secure three points in either, the team has left itself with more to do. Already, other African heavyweights like Algeria, Senegal and Cameroon have already secured qualification for the tournament.
With the situation still dicey, the future of Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr remains uncertain as there have been calls for him to be sacked after the woeful draw in Benin. Of late, Mr Rohr’s team selections, poor substitutions and lack of game management ability have led to calls for his sacking.
Nigeria has developed a bad habit of surrendering leads even when she is in control of games because Mr Rohr fails to make changes to shore up the team. Had Nigeria lost in Freetown today, he would almost certainly have been sacked but with the draw, it is not certain what will now happen.
Although the Eagles did not play particularly well, the atrocious state of the Freetown pitch did not help matters. Nigeria only how the target twice in the one drawing a great save from the Sierra Leonian goalkeeper on one occasion and Kelechi Ihaenacho being ruled offside in the other instance after heading the ball home.
With the team playing without star striker Victor Osimhen who was injured from the first leg and losing anchorman Oghene Etebo early on, today’s draw was not as woeful as that of Friday. However, several sports ministry officials have already opened talks with several other coaches about taking over from Mr Rohr.