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Super Eagles' World Cup Dreams in Jeopardy After Shocking Defeat to Benin

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Prince Jean

Jun 11, 2024

2026 World Cup Qualifications

Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire – Nigeria's World Cup aspirations are hanging by a thread following a 2-1 loss to Benin, leaving the Super Eagles with only three points from four matches in the second qualifying window for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The team, appearing disengaged for most of the match, now faces an uphill battle with six games remaining.

While the defeat does not entirely eliminate Nigeria's chances, the path to qualification is now steeper than ever. To secure a spot in the World Cup, the Super Eagles must win all six of their remaining matches—a prospect that seems increasingly unlikely based on their recent performances against South Africa and Benin.

Match Highlights and Tactical Decisions

Head coach Finidi George made three changes to the starting lineup following a disappointing draw with South Africa. Raphael Onyedika opened the scoring in the 27th minute, but Nigeria's lead was short-lived. Defensive errors allowed Benin to equalize and then take the lead before halftime, with goals from Jodel Dossou and Steve Mounié.

The Super Eagles failed to mount any significant threat in the second half, allowing Benin to secure their first-ever victory over Nigeria at this level and temporarily top the group.

George's decision to abandon the solid back three formation, which had previously taken Nigeria to the Africa Cup of Nations final, in favor of a back four, proved costly. Injuries to key defenders such as William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo forced George to make unorthodox positional changes, including deploying right-back Bright Osayi-Samuel at left-back and center-back Benjamin Tanimu at right-back, both of which were unsuccessful.

Despite reverting to a more conventional setup after Osayi-Samuel's injury, the damage was already done. The defensive instability contributed to the three goals conceded over two matches, highlighting the necessity for a more cohesive and familiar backline.

Player Accountability and Coaching Criticism

In his post-match comments, George emphasized the need for player commitment and hinted at the team's lack of cohesion and spirit. Fans and analysts alike have questioned both the players' performances and George's tactical decisions, particularly his substitutions. The removal of Alex Iwobi, who was one of Nigeria's most industrious players, drew significant criticism as it disrupted the midfield and led to a reliance on ineffective long balls.

The loss has intensified scrutiny on George's tenure, which could become one of the shortest in Super Eagles history. The Nigerian sports minister, John Owan Enoh, has demanded a comprehensive technical report from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to explain the poor performances and outline potential consequences.

With Nigeria's World Cup hopes dwindling, the coming days will be critical for the Super Eagles and their coaching staff. Significant improvements are necessary to turn the tide and keep their World Cup dream alive.

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