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Benin 2-1 Nigeria: A Deep Dive into the Super Eagles’ Disappointing Performance


The Super Eagles of Nigeria faced a shocking 2-1 defeat against Benin on Monday, a result that sent ripples through the African football community. This loss, part of the World Cup qualifiers, was a significant blow to Nigeria's aspirations for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. For a team historically dominant in African football, the current winless streak in the qualifiers is perplexing, especially given the relatively modest competition in their group.

Benin 2-1 Nigeria

Historical Context

In the annals of African football qualifiers, it has been nearly 40 years since the Nigerian national football team lost a match after taking the lead. It is unprecedented for Nigeria to remain winless after four matches in a World Cup qualifying series. The Super Eagles' group includes Lesotho (ranked 149th), Benin (97th), Zimbabwe (122nd), and South Africa (59th). Despite these seemingly favourable odds, Nigeria finds itself in an alarming position with just three points from a possible 12.

Player Ratings and Performance Analysis

Stanley Nwabali: 6/10 The Chippa United goalkeeper was a key factor in keeping the scoreline respectable. His alertness and agility prevented more goals, although he was exposed and unable to prevent Benin's second goal.

Semi Ajayi: 5/10 Ajayi's physical presence and crucial tackles were notable, yet his performance was marred by his inability to prevent Benin's second goal.

Calvin Bassey: 3/10 Bassey's performance was a low point. The Fulham defender was directly responsible for Benin’s equalizer and failed to mark Steve Mounié for the second goal. His performance did not improve even after being shifted to the left-back position.

Bright Osayi-Samuel: 4/10 Osayi-Samuel's performance lacked his usual attacking verve and was further marred by an injury that forced him off the field on the hour mark.

Benjamin Tanimu: 6/10 In just his fourth cap, Tanimu displayed leadership qualities and provided the assist for Nigeria’s goal. His versatility in defence is promising for the future.

Raphael Onyedika: 5/10 Onyedika showed potential, scoring Nigeria's lone goal and displaying comfort on the ball, though his overall impact was limited.

Wilfred Ndidi: 4/10 Ndidi’s performance was subpar, characterized by a lack of energy and several misplaced passes that nearly cost Nigeria more goals.

Alex Iwobi: 4/10 Iwobi continued to struggle in the offensive midfield role, failing to make a significant impact and raising more questions about his form.

Ademola Lookman: 5.5/10 Lookman showed flashes of brilliance but was criticized for his selfish play, particularly in a two-on-one situation that could have led to a goal.

Samuel Chukwueze: 5/10 Chukwueze was a bright spark, creating Nigeria’s goal, but his substitution in the second half was questionable.

Terem Moffi: 3/10 Moffi had an ineffective performance, failing to find or create scoring opportunities.

Substitutes

Paul Onuachu: 5/10 Onuachu brought energy to the attack and was unlucky not to score a last-minute equalizer, hitting the crossbar instead.

Victor Boniface: 4/10 Boniface seemed confused about his role and often drifted away from key attacking positions.

Ibrahim Olawoyin: 5/10 Olawoyin showed potential in his brief appearance, hinting at a promising future.

Ismaila Sodiq: 3/10 Sodiq struggled to make an impact, appearing overwhelmed by the occasion.

Alhassan Yusuf: 4/10 Yusuf was active in the midfield but had limited time to make a significant impact.

Manager: Finidi George: 3/10 Finidi George is still struggling to identify his best team. His starting lineup and substitutions were questionable, and the team's continued weakness in set pieces is a significant issue. With nine months to address these problems, George must find a winning combination from the talented players at his disposal.

Match Review

The match started on a hopeful note for Nigeria when Raphael Onyedika scored from just inside the box in the 27th minute. However, the initial optimism quickly faded as Benin took control. Calvin Bassey's error allowed Jodel Dossou to equalize, and Steve Mounié capitalized on another defensive lapse to put Benin ahead just before halftime.

The Super Eagles' second-half performance was dismal, with no real threats to Benin's goal. This loss has left Nigeria's chances of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup hanging by a thread. With only three points from four games, Nigeria must now win all six of their remaining games to guarantee qualification, a daunting task given their current form.

Tactical Analysis

Finidi George's tactical decisions have come under heavy scrutiny. He abandoned the solid back three base established by his predecessor, Jose Peseiro, in favour of a back four. This change has not yielded the desired results, with Nigeria conceding three goals in two games. Injuries to key players like William Troost-Ekong, Kenneth Omeruo, Zaidu Sanusi, Jamilu Collins, and Bruno Onyemaechi forced George to deploy players in unfamiliar positions, further destabilizing the team.

The decision to deploy Bright Osayi-Samuel, a right-back, as a left-back, and Benjamin Tanimu, a centre-back, as a right-back, did not work. Only after Osayi-Samuel's injury did George revert to a more conventional setup, but by then, the damage was done.

Lessons Unlearned

After the game against South Africa, where Nigeria salvaged a draw with an inspiring second-half performance, George emphasized the lessons learned. However, these lessons did not translate into the match against Benin. Apart from the first half-hour, Nigeria was on the back foot for most of the game. The players showed no spirit, urgency, or attempt to fight back, raising serious concerns about their character and beliefs.

Baffling Substitutions

George's substitutions have also been questionable. Against South Africa, his changes were effective, but against Benin, they fell flat. The decision to substitute Alex Iwobi and Samuel Chukwueze, two of the most energetic and involved players, was particularly baffling. Iwobi's removal, in particular, led to a loss of midfield control and a resort to route-one football.

Gernot Rohr's Revenge

Former Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr, now with Benin, must have relished this victory. Despite downplaying any thoughts of revenge, Rohr's players celebrated the win passionately, showing how much it meant to them and their coach. Many Nigerians now wish Rohr was still on their side of the touchline.

Future Prospects

The big question now is whether Finidi George will survive as head coach. With national sports minister John Owan Enoh demanding explanations from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) for the poor performances, George’s position is precarious. The minister's statement, calling the recent results unacceptable, indicates that George is under significant pressure to turn things around quickly.

George has nine months to address these issues and forge a winning team. His ability to survive on the job will depend on his capacity to learn from these mistakes, make better tactical decisions, and get the best out of his players. The Super Eagles have the talent but need the right leadership and strategy to succeed.

Conclusion

Nigeria's loss to Benin is a wake-up call for the Super Eagles. With their World Cup qualification hopes hanging by a thread, they must regroup, reassess, and come back stronger. Finidi George faces the challenge of his career as he seeks to salvage Nigeria's World Cup dreams. The next few months will be crucial for the Super Eagles and their coach, as they strive to turn around their fortunes and restore their status as a powerhouse in African football.

 

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