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Nigeria 4:4 Sierra Leone : Are Super Eagles declining recently?

Maduka Okoye set an unenviable record as being the first Nigerian goalkeeper in the last 2 seasons to concede more than 2 goals in national team colours as Rohr’s boys – for the umpteenth time – failed to get the job done by allowing Sierra Leone to bravely claw their way back from 4:0 to 4:4 in the spectatorless stadium in Benin City in a 2021 Afcon qualifier this week.

For all the flack that goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi has had to put up with from a section of Super Eagles supporters over the years, it is noteworthy that he has never in his national team career conceded more than 2 goals in a match. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the 6th of September 2014 for when the main Super Eagles team conceded more than 2 goals in a game (we lost to Congo 3:2 in an Afcon qualifier in Calabar).

Yet – much to the horror of many fans – it happened against a team rated 120 in the world in the FIFA rankings in this week's Afcon qualifiers.

Going into the encounter against the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone, most fans would have been forgiven for expecting this to be 3 points that were already in the bag, just waiting to be claimed by the flamboyant Super Eagles and it all started well enough when Alex Iwobi stole into the opponent’s vulnerable area to stab home low to the goalkeeper’s right to make it 1:0 for Nigeria in just 4 minutes.

And after Victor Osihmen met a low cross from Sanusi inside the 18 yard box to lash home from the right across the goalkeeper to make it 2:0 for Nigeria in 21 minutes, the match was truly going according to script; and it was to get better.

With the encounter ebbing and flowing, Iwobi picked a rabbit out of the hat in 28 minutes with an audacious 20 yard curler that left the goalkeeper rooted to the spot with the ball rooted in postage stamp part of his net for Nigeria’s 3rd goal before Chukwueze weaved his way past 2 defenders to plant the ball at the top corner of the net for his 1st and Nigeria’s 4th goal of the match in just 31 minutes.

It appeared Rohr’s approach was working faultlessly but the Sierra Leoneans may have been down, they were far from out!

One unfortunate trend I have spotted from Rohr’s Super Eagles in the past 12 months (to which I highlighted recently) is their inability to get the job done, and so it proved here again.

Seemingly on Easy Street having cruised to what should have been an unassailable 4:0 lead in just 32 minutes, Sierra Leone were granted a route back to the match when Chukwueze was dispossessed and Etebo bullied mercilessly off the ball before Kwame Quee received the pass to blast past the on-rushing Okoye to make it 4:1 in 41 minutes.

That was Iceland-based Kwame’s 4th goal for his country; coming against an illustrious opponent (in their own backyard) but his team was just getting started!

Even at 4:1, the game was remarkably open, much to the credit of the Leone Stars and after Akpoguma allowed a cross from his area lead to a powerful header from Alhaji Kamara that left Okoye picking the ball out of his own net; it was panic stations for the Nigerians – 4:2 at that point in 72 minutes.

Even then, a draw need not have been a foregone conclusion for it was in the hands of Nigeria’s technical team to read the match and act in a way to alter the cause in Super Eagles favour.

Rohr could have identified some gaps and then move to either alter the formation or make impactful substitutions – he did neither.

Even though he made substitutions, these were not impactful as Akpoguma’s area was breached again before a low cross found Mustapha Bundu who made no mistakes from 15 yards to make it 4:3 in 80 minutes.

The other substitutes were not positioned to do anything of note in the match.

The unthinkable then became unbelievable as the Leone Stars – like the Phoenix – rose from the ashes of despair to claim a vital, crucial and memorable point from the Super Eagles when Alhaji Kamara headed his team (quite literally) to delirium in 85 minutes for his 2nd and Sierra Leone’s 4th goal of the game.

4:4 it ended, despite a flurry of action by the Super Eagles to restore their lead (which at times almost led to Sierra Leone taking the lead).

This score line was not what many Super Eagles fans expected or wanted. Nigeria have now drawn 3 games from winning positions in the last 12 months and have failed to keep a clean sheet across 7 matches in the same period.

Also, we dropped 1 point below Algeria (who did the business over Zimbabwe yesterday with an emphatic 3:1 win) in the last Fifa rankings.

Nigeria’s style of play does not seem to be improving as there are obvious gaps that were ruthlessly exploited by Sierra Leone today (of all teams!).

However you want to look at it, Rohr’s Super Eagles are experiencing a downward trend in fortune; the warning signs continue to be there.

I think even the most ardent of Gernot Rohr’s fans now have reasons to be worried!

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