An understrength Nigerian side still outwitted their hosts on Tuesday to go clear at the top of the FIFA World Cup qualifying Group C
Cape Verde Islands coach Pedro ‘Bubista’ Leitão has urged his compatriots not to feel bad about the Blue Sharks’ 1-2 loss to Nigeria at the Estádio Municipal Adérito Sena in Mindelo, São Vicente, as the Super Eagles are a heavyweight of African football.
The winds appeared to be in the Cape Verdeans’ favour ahead of the matchday two clash, with the Nigerian national team hit with the withdrawal of several key players.
The UK’s restrictive coronavirus travel policy meant Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi, and six other UK-based stars who excelled against Liberia on Friday missed the trip to São Vicente.
As if that was not bad enough, a controversial late failed COVID-19 test then ruled out Samuel Kalu and Tyronne Ebuehi, leaving head coach Gernot Rohr with only 19 players to prosecute the crucial world cup qualifier.
And it got even worse after the 77th-ranked Cape Verde stunned a much-changed Super Eagles starting eleven with a 19th-minute opening goal.
But Nigeria, with three players making their competitive debuts, fought back bravely to equalise through Victor Osimhen ten minutes later. And the comeback was completed midway through the second half through a bizarre own goal.
Hard as that defeat may seem, the Cape Verde gaffer has taken solace in the realisation that his team surrendered to one of the giants of African football.
“Cape Verde doesn’t have to feel squeamish about losing to Nigeria,” Bubista said at the post-match press conference.
“Nigeria are one of the best teams in Africa. We have to have the guts and humility to know that Nigeria is also an extremely strong team, and losing to Nigeria is not a bad thing.
“An own goal is always difficult. It was a shame because it happened at a time when we were taking over the game, we had refreshed the team.
“But it happens. We are not here to blame anyone individually. In our team, we always win together and lose together.”
Nigeria presently top Group C with six points and next face a back-to-back fixture against bottom-of-the-group Central African Republic. The Super Eagles will still make a trip to Liberia and then play host to Cape Verde, but the advantage is firmly in their corner.
Still, the Blue Sharks’ handler is not conceding defeat in the race to Qatar 2022.
Bubista added: “Nobody wins or loses a qualification in two rounds. We have to keep fighting always. We have conditions to improve even more.
“It is still early in terms of qualification, and we have to have the faith and courage to work until the end.”
Liberia, with the three points earned in the victory over the Central African Republic, are second behind Nigeria in Group C. Third place Cape Verde and the CAR have only a point each.