Why Central African Republic’s victory over the Super Eagles is no surprise

The three-time African champions lost on their turf to the Les Fauves, leaving many flabbergasted.

Super Eagles of Nigeria

After a 2-0 home win over Liberia and hard-fought victory at Cape Verde during the September International break, the Super Eagles of Nigeria approached their double header 2022 World Cup Qualifier against the Central African Republic with the expectation of a maximum six points.

Do that and the West African giants will be on the cusp of making it into the playoff round to seal one of the five berths in Qatar next year.

Things often don’t go according to script and so it did when Karl Namnganda scored a last minute goal to earn the Central Africans one of, if not the biggest result in their history with a 1-0 win.

It was disbelieve at the Teslim Balogun stadium. What started as an electric atmosphere long before the came had kicked off under the sun in Lagos, quickly turned to shock, anger, frustration and disappointment after the game.

When things like this happen, blame and criticism goes quickly to someone and the chief here is on coach Gernot Rohr. Hardly loved by the Nigerian faithful in his five-year stint so far, barrage of negative comments went against the Franco-German for his lack of tactical acumen and failing to utilize the options he had on the bench.

Then of course there are conspiracy theorists. Some think Rohr deliberately made his team lose this match because he is being a owed a backlog of salaries, so also the players with their bonuses and other allowances.

Then some assert that the absence of the midfield trio of Alex Iwobi, Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo hurt the team, as creativity was lacking.

Whatever blame or reason is apportioned on this loss, one thing is clear in that Super Eagles failed to deliver and it gave the Central African Republic the opportunity to capitalize.

Nigeria have not been inspiring with their performances of late even with the key faces featuring. They however do find a way to pull things through. They after all did it at Cape Verde where seven United Kingdom-based players (Joe Aribo, Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong, Iwobi, Ndidi, Etebo and Kelechi Iheanacho) missed the tie because the tiny island country was on the UK’s red list of coronavirus infections.

Missing three players this time, all who are UK-based as well, was simply no excuse. There are many options to utilize from. Nigeria isn’t like the CAR who don’t have the same wealth of talent and would usually rely on one star player to pull the strings. In this case, that is Geoffrey Kondogbia. Unfortunately, the Atletico Madrid defensive midfielder has not played in his last three internationals, so it makes this victory all the more special for CAR.

The reality is that Nigeria underestimated the Central African Republic. Being the weakest and lowest-ranked side in Group C, this was supposed to be a stroll in the park, but it’s ironic the men in green couldn’t muster one shot on target with the plethora of attacking options on the pitch.

The CAR goalkeeper not getting to make a save all game said it all. It is rather CAR that created the best opportunities, one which led to Francis Uzoho needing to make a quick and smart save and of course the goal by Namnganda which came about from a quick counter and defensive mix up from the “Oyinbo Wall” of Balogun and Troost-Ekong.

In the end, a well-deserved victory for the Central African Republic. Well deserved because Nigeria gave them the opportunity to pounce. As an underdog, they were always going to defend and they did that well, only if the Nigerians did better with their chances. Since that didn’t happen, avoiding defeat was high on the cards for the CAR and so they got it. The victory is also a massive moral boost for the country that is in the midst of a bloody civil war running for almost a decade that has killed thousands and displaced millions of civilians, main reason why the return leg will be played in Douala, Cameroon on Sunday.

Underestimating opponents because of their weak status is a very dangerous thing. No matter how weak they appear, you’ve got to play to your full strengths and capabilities rather than taking it easy thinking the result would pan out as the game progresses.

This happened to Manchester United when they faced now-relegated Sheffield United last season. The Red Devils were top of the table and the Blades rock bottom. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were lethargic from the get go and this presented Chris Wilder’s side with an opportunity to take advantage and so they did by scoring early in the first half and ultimately winning 2-1 at Old Trafford.

Strange result, but it was coming. Nigeria’s was no different.

It is the hope that Rohr and his squad will learn not to underestimate any opponent. Forget, Central African Republic are ranked 124th in the world. The terrain in Africa is different. Once you don’t make it count you will be punished. It’s that simple. Sierra Leone equally did this in Benin City on November 13, 2020 during the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. From a comfortable 4-0 first half lead, Nigeria lost complete focus to allow the Leone Stars claw their way back and score four goals, the game ending 4-4.

This is only the second time Nigeria would lose at home in a competitive game under Rohr and first time in four years. That says a lot about home being a fortress regardless of the venue used. However, If they don’t learn to take opponents and games seriously, don’t be surprised that Eritrea, Africa’s lowest-ranked side, is capable of pulling off a win as well.

First thing though is correcting Thursday’s wrongs in Douala this weekend.

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Kunle is an avid writer with interest in topics on sports, politics and health. His articles have featured in Goal.com, Opera News and Vanguard News. He holds a Bachelors and Masters degree in International Relations and is an advocate for people living with Hydrocephalus and other neurological conditions. Follow him on Twitter: @kfayiga

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