The first international window of 2023 presented a chance for Nigeria to get back to winning ways as six points from six would secure automatic qualification to the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations.
Almost a year on from that ill-fated 1-1 draw with Ghana which meant they would not be at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the Super Eagles returned to the MKO Abiola Stadium in Abuja for a meeting with 118th-ranked Guinea-Bissau.
What was meant to be a comfortable win for the highly-rated Nigerian players turned out to re-enact the nightmare home defeat to Central Africa Republic only 17 months ago, as the Wild Dogs overtook their opponents at the top of Group A.
Despite a full-strength starting lineup in front of a home audience in the nation’s capital, Nigeria crucially lacked a cutting edge.
José Peseiro’s starting front-four has registered 81 goal contributions between them at club level this season but they were disjointed and lacked cohesion to really get behind a packed defence.
Samuel Chukwueze was particularly lively in the opening exchanges but a combination of his poor final ball and predictability made for a frustrating outing. Tellingly, he refused to regularly combine with Bright Osayi-Samuel whose overlapping runs from full-back could have produced a quick delivery for the in-form Victor Osimhen.
Elsewhere, a lack of concentration in Nigeria’s high defensive line was devastatingly exposed on the half-hour mark as a routine long pass met Mama Samba Baldé who slid the ball under Francis Uzoho.
While the hosts controlled proceedings in the second half, they failed to truly test the opposition goalkeeper with three efforts on target from 17 total shots. This damning defeat means the three-time African champions have now lost five of the seven games in Peseiro’s tenure.
The Portuguese coach promised attacking football and aimed to win the next AFCON upon his appointment nine months ago. While he secured a record 0-10 victory against São Tomé and Príncipe, the Super Eagles have scored only once and failed to win in the three games since then.
Notably, the sub-standard condition of the playing turf against Guinea-Bissau posed a big disadvantage for the home side whose European-based players are used to quick passing on hybrid surfaces, they weren’t able to assert their greater technical prowess on the visitors.
Indeed, it is no surprise that Nigeria play their best football on foreign shores and they must find a way to win the return leg on Monday regardless of the conditions in the Estádio 24 de Setembro.
Where is the succession plan?
As the Djurtus repeatedly hit Nigeria on the counter in the chaotic first half, it laid bare the lack of form and fitness Wilfred Ndidi has endured for most of this season. One wonders why there is no sufficient backup at the base of midfield amidst the Leicester City man’s struggles.
Poignantly, captain Ahmed Musa was introduced for the final minutes in a desperate effort to salvage a goal, meanwhile, the 30-year-old’s five starts and 21 appearances for Sivasspor have failed to yield a single goal contribution this season.
Nigeria’s most-capped player is a wonderful servant whose leadership figure remains a key part of the dressing room, however, his ceremonial duties should be played behind the scenes as there are younger players deserving of those playing minutes.
Gross negligence and organisational gaffes have undermined the true potential of Nigerian football for years, and the current struggles of the Super Eagles prove the depth of these underperformances.
Super Eagles fans have grown accustomed to the familiar bump in the road of every qualifying campaign, given the complacency stems from the top-down.
Peseiro’s future is already at stake going into Monday’s must-win fixture and only a general improvement can avert an impending meltdown.