When Nigeria kicked off their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a win over Liberia and Cape Verde in September, there was this belief that qualification could be secured in the next two games.
The Super Eagles had beaten Liberia 2-0 in Lagos before a depleted team under the scorching sun of Mindelo beat the Blue Sharks 2-1.
Following the two victories, the next two games against the Central African Republic were seen as routine victories as the gulf in class between the two sides was clear as daylight.
The Wild Beasts had never qualified for a major tournament in their history and had just one professional footballer in their squad- Atletico Madrid’s Geoffrey Edwin Kondogbia.
There were also 90 spots between the two sides ahead of the encounter, with Nigeria ranked 34th in the FIFA rankings, while CAR were ranked 134th in the world.
However, the first leg of the doubleheader delivered an upset of a lifetime as a CAR side full of semi-professionals stunned Nigeria at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, courtesy of a 90th-minute strike from Karl Namnganda.
Soccernet takes a look at some of the talking points from the first leg and second leg of both games.
An upset, but the result has been long coming.
While the upset is not what fans foresaw, it is a result that has been long coming. The Super Eagles might have started the qualifying campaign with two wins, but it only covered the problems.
For over a year, the Super Eagles general play has been disappointing and boring to watch. Aside from the wins against Lesotho and Liberia, every other victory in the last 12 months had an element of luck.
It is quite disappointing that the Super Eagles have played with no sense of identity in their last few games. They did dominate possession against CAR, but it was more of sideways passing, which has been reoccurring in the last few months.
There was no time the Wild Beasts felt threatened as the Super Eagles failed to create a clear chance. In fact, the two big chances created in the game were from CAR.
Although the Super Eagles missed the services of Wilfred Ndidi and Alex Iwobi, they still had enough quality on the pitch to win the game.
However, the team had no pattern, and they had to rely on the long ball, which CAR dealt with effectively. This was also the same issue against Cape Verde, with the team lacking creativity, although they did win the game courtesy of two errors from the Cape Verdeans.
Luckily for Nigeria following the shock loss to CAR, they were presented with a chance for immediate revenge as the second leg took place at the Japoma Stadium in Douala, Cameroon, on Sunday.
It was a chance they took as goals from Leon Balogun and Victor Osimhen sealed a 2-0 win for them and maintained their top spot in Group C.
The win was secured thanks to a switch in formation from Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr. Rohr decided to use a 3-5-2 formation, with Chidozie Awaziem coming in for Ola Aina, while Ahmed Musa replaced Chidera Ejuke in an unfamiliar midfield role.
Image restored, but problems remain for Rohr
The Super Eagles did well by securing the win to restore their pride, while credit should also be given to Rohr for deciding to play three at the back, which gave more freedom to the wingbacks and made it easier to control CAR’s transition.
However, the lingering problems still remain for the German tactician. The Super Eagles struggled going forward in the two games due to a lack of a creative midfielder and good passer of the ball.
Alex Iwobi, who would have occupied that role, missed the two games due to an injury. Iwobi might not be everyone’s favourite, but his creativity would’ve helped Nigeria in the final third.
It was no coincidence that he provided the two assists for Iheanacho’s brace in the 2-0 win over Liberia. But despite Iwobi’s absence, the three-time African champions still need a midfielder who has an eye for a pass.
Rohr played Frank Onyeka and Joe Aribo as his central midfielders, with Kelechi Iheanacho in an advanced role, but neither could unlock the CAR defence.
Onyeka did well in his defensive duties, but Aribo was poor in the first leg. Although he improved in the second leg, he is a good ball carrier and not a player with an eye for a pass.
Iheanacho made one brilliant through ball for Osimhen in the second leg, but that was his highlight over two legs.
It is not his fault, though, as he has proven repeatedly at his club that he is a striker and not an attacking midfielder.
This is a problem Rohr will need to solve ahead of the games in November, but more importantly, next year’s Africa Cup of Nations.
The German tactician has been in charge for almost six years, yet Nigeria’s creative play has come from counter-attacks and wing play.
On a side note, for all the talk about how the team hasn’t found Jay-Jay Okocha’s replacement, it is Sunday Oliseh’s passing range the team has struggled to replace.
While it is not an excuse for the disappointing display, the state of the pitch at Teslim Balogun Stadium contributed to the first leg defeat.
Players like Aribo found it difficult to play their game on a pitch with uneven grass. Ejuke, who was the only player that tried to make things happen, also struggled with the state of the pitch.
It is no surprise that Aribo and Ejuke played better in Douala, which had a better playing surface. This raises the question of why the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) decided to take away the home games from Uyo to a sub-standard stadium like the Teslim Balogun.
Musa finally reached 100 caps for the country following the controversy that happened last month. The Super Eagles captain thought he had reached the number against Cape Verde last month, but two of the games were not recognised by FIFA.
Nonetheless, he is now Nigeria’s latest centurion following his appearances in the two games against CAR. It is a remarkable achievement for him as he is only the third player to reach this milestone after Joseph Yobo and Vincent Enyeama.
And at the age of 28, Musa should easily break Enyeama’s record of 102 caps for the country. Congratulations, the governor.