Super Eagles: Nigeria are becoming World Cup qualifying no-hopers

Super Eagles: Nigeria are becoming World Cup qualifying no-hopers

While three straight draws papered over the cracks, losing to Benin underlines the uphill task Finidi George faces to prevent back-to-back World Cup absences.

It is safe to state that Nigeria have made a pig’s ear of World Cup qualifying. The Super Eagles began the series with three straight stalemates against Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa; draws that frustrated, but the results around them meant the glass was half-full rather than half-empty. 

Losing to Benin on Monday has unsurprisingly unleashed bottled-up angst, with fans even calling for Finidi George’s dismissal

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While that is the typical reaction, George is simply having missiles hurled at him for problems he inherited.

The former Enyimba trainer has been far from perfect in his selections and tactical approaches, oscillating between a measured approach and a rushed one, with the latter keen to release a big man up top (read: Paul Onuachu) swiftly instead of sticking to a strategy that worked in a friendly win over Ghana in March and intermittently showed this team’s potential against South Africa last Friday. 

Even though suggestions were made to get the team playing at a level capable of defeating Benin on Monday, the Super Eagles boss quickly reverted to bad habits exhibited under his predecessor at the Africa Cup of Nations and in the embryonic stages of his tenure. They fashioned little and lost in Abidjan.

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The upshot of Monday’s defeat to Gernot Rohr’s Benin leaves the Super Eagles trailing the table-topping Cheetahs by four points. If Lesotho beat Rwanda on Tuesday, the Super Eagles will trail Group C’s leading side by five points. If Zimbabwe stun South Africa, the three-time African champions will end matchday four bottom of their section as qualification nears its halfway stage. 

When the draw was held in July 2023, the Super Eagles were favoured to be one of the nine nations to make the 2026 World Cup. At the time, Nigeria were 39th in the FIFA Men’s World Ranking. South Africa? 62nd. Benin? 93rd. Zimbabwe? 124th. Lesotho? 152nd.

Admittedly, observers have hitherto criticised FIFA’s flawed grading system, but it sheds more light on a Nigeria side that are doing all they can to botch their prospects at competing in the global showpiece in two years. 

Nigerian fans want Finidi George sacked as Super Eagles coach |Pulsesports.ng

Nigerian fans want Finidi George sacked as Super Eagles coach |Photo Credit: Imago

While they still retain a mathematical chance of ending atop the group or taking the scenic, unpredictable route of finishing second, recent results in World Cup qualifying underline the West African nation’s slide in such games. 

Excluding aggregate losses via away goals, the defeat to Benin ended an eight-game undefeated run in 90-minute matches for the Super Eagles.

However, a closer look shows that Nigeria won just two games in that period — claiming 2-0 victories over the Central African Republic and Liberia in late 2021 — with the unbeaten run masked by a glut of draws that have magnified this team’s inability to win games. 

Nigeria's Super Eagles recent form in World Cup qualifying

Nigeria have struggled for positive results in World Cup qualifiers (Credit: Soccerway)

The absence of a killer instinct meant they failed to score against Ghana in Ghana in the first of a playoff doubleheader with their West African rivals, and they suffered from sub-optimal execution in the reverse fixture in Abuja, thus seeing them miss out in Qatar. 

A pair of ties against the Black Stars made it three consecutive draws in World Cup qualifying. While the first against Cape Verde was not fatal, both against Ghana were. The three to follow in the 2026 qualifiers have jarred, and Monday’s reverse against Benin in Abidjan leaves them in a desperate situation with six games remaining.

Since Nigeria’s first appearance at the 1994 finals, they have never missed out on consecutive World Cups, strikingly responding to their 2006 absence by participating in the 2010, 2014 and 2018 editions. 

But they appear primed to do what many supporters believe is unimaginable — missing out in 2026 after their 2022 failure. That beyond-belief outcome will become the Super Eagles’ reality unless they get their act together. 

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