Sports

June 16, 2024

Finidi George quits, Nigeria’s 2026 World Cup bid in jeopardy

Finidi George

By Patrick Omorodion

Spanner was thrown into the Super Eagles 2026 World Cup qualification last week after the doubleheader against South Africa’s Bafana Bafana in Uyo on Friday and the Cheetahs of Benin Republic who hosted them on neutral ground in Abidjan three days later.

The Friday encounter was Finidi George’s first match as the substantive coach and Nigerians were expectant especially after the first two games of the qualifiers ended in miserable draws against seemingly weaker opponents, Lesotho in Uyo and Zimbabwe in Kigali, Rwanda.

First sign that the day may go awry for the Super Eagles was when some key players couldn’t join their mates in their Uyo camp for training following the Labour strike on Monday, June 3 which paralysed flight operations nationwide.

Even though the strike was called off after 24 hours, Finidi wasn’t able to get the full compliment of his team, already depleted following injury to some players and withdrawal by Bayer Leverkusen player, NathanTella until late Wednesday, less than 48 hours to the encounter.

On match day, the Super Eagles fought from behind after Bafana Bafana took the lead in the 32nd minute of the first half.

After they levelled scores early in the second half, fans were optimistic that the team, who were missing their leader and captain, William Troost-Ekong as well as aggressive forward and African Player of the Year, Victor Osimhen, would score the winner to take the maximum points to shoot into leadership of the group.

Despite drawing the encounter, their third in a row which put them on three points, expectations were still high that the Cheetahs of Benin Republic who were banished to Abidjan for their home games would bear the brunt of the lost points.

With a goal from early in the first half in which the Eagles were in control, there was hope that the players would mount more pressure on the Benin side to score more goals and seal victory, their first in the series.

That was not to be as the opponents now handled by Coach Gernot Rohr, the Eagles former handler, struck in the 37th minute to level scores before the interval. From then on, the Eagles became disorganised with the defenders, stand-in captain Wilfred Ndidi and Calvin Bassey clashing often times.

The backbreaking winner for the Cheetahs came in the added time of the first half and the Eagles put every foot wrong from thence till the end of the encounter.

Despite the defeat, Bayelsa-born Finidi was still hopeful that the Eagles could still snatch the World Cup ticket from the other five teams in their group, stressing that they cannot throw in the towel now with six more matches to be played, which he said they are capable of winning if the players show enough commitment.

Speaking on the defeat, Finidi said, “There’s no special formula to win, we have to see how the players will start a new season now and see how we can get the best out of the players.

“Everybody must be committed and I believe with commitment we will win games. I believe we are going to win games and if we can win games the battle will still be there.

“We can’t throw in the towel because we’ve had only three points, we have to find a way to get these players back in a way for them to perform.”

The Eagles next double header for the World Cup qualifiers is in March 2025 when they will play Zimbabwe and Rwanda who are joint top on seven points with Benin Republic and South Africa .

A jittery football federation headed by Ibrahim Gusau is not taking chances on that especially after he was summoned by the Sports Development minister, Senator John Enoh who had insisted against the NFF wish for foreign coach.

In a communique issued after the NFF emergency meeting in Abuja on Wednesday, the federation pressed the panic button, saying they will look for a foreign technical adviser for the Super Eagles to salvage the almost hopeless situation.

The NFF president speaking said, “This foreign coach will take the helm ahead of the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers and the remaining World Cup qualifying matches.”

He did not however, state whether Finidi will work under the foreigner expected to go by the name technical adviser like he did when he worked under Jose Peseiro or will be asked to quit the technical team entirely.

Finidi, it was learnt, confirmed he signed a performance-based contract with the NFF which must have necessitated the move for a foreign coach by the federation in the light of his poor performance with only two games in-charge.

This may be the reason why it was reported yesterday that Finidi has decided to resign before he is given the boot.

He was reported to be angry that the NFF are heaping the blame for the woeful performance entirely on him when they met with the Sports Minister without mentioning to him that players reported late to camp while they also failed to mobilise Nigerians in Abidjan to turnout to support the team against Benin Republic.

As it is now, the Super Eagles World Cup chances are in jeopardy as the NFF will search for a foreign coach which may take a long time.

Vanguard News Nigeria