Tears, anger as Eagles lose World Cup ticket to Ghana
As it were at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament in Cameroon, where poor goalkeeping by Maduka Okoye stalled the Super Eagles in the round of 16, Nigeria paid the big prize once again, yesterday, in Abuja.
Poor goalkeeping by Francis Uzoho gave Ghana’s Black Stars the ticket to Qatar 2022, leaving the Super Eagles, and indeed, millions of Nigerians gnashing their teeth.
Three years ago at Egypt 2019 AFCON, many football-loving Nigerians put the blame for Super Eagles’ defeat by Algeria in the semifinals on the shoulders of goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi.
The situation repeated itself at the Stade Rounde Adjio in Garoau, Cameroun, in January this year, where Okoye failed to save Youssef Msakni’s long-range strike two minutes into the second half to give the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia the ticket.
After drawing 0-0 with the Black Stars in Kumasi on Friday, many Nigerian fans were looking forward to seeing the Super Eagles ‘overrun’ the visitors and picking the ticket to Qatar.
The game was barely 11 minutes old, when Ghana captain, Thomas Partey, struck. His low shot outside the 18-yard box rolled slowly past the hands of goalkeeper Uzoho to the disappointment of over 80,000 fans.
Although the match ended 1-1 in Abuja yesterday, and 1-1 on aggregate, the away goal by Ghana secured the World Cup ticket for the Black Stars, their appearance at the global showpiece.
That goal counted double in the event that the match ended 1-1. The Eagles thus faltered at the last hurdle with almost everything in their favour.
Coach Eguavoen made five changes to the first leg starting 11. Ademola Lookman, Frank Onyeka, Oghenekaro Etebo, Calvin Bassey, and Emmanuel Dennis replaced Moses Simon, Kelechi Iheanacho, Innocent Bonke, Zaidu Sanusi, and Samuel Chukwueze.
The MKO Bashorun Abiola Stadium was jam-packed with expectant Nigerian fans.
The Eagles responded and in the 12th minute almost found the equaliser through Victor Osimhen, who chased down a ball deep into the Ghana half, but his shot was just wide from a very tight angle.
Six minutes later, the Eagles found a way after Ademola Lookman was fouled in the box by Denis Odoi.
It took VAR to call the centre referee’s attention to the monitor to give the penalty. Captain William Troost-Ekong stepped up and sent Joseph Wollacott the wrong way. It was a liftoff for the capacity stadium that had come to cheer the Eagles to Qatar.
Osimhen thought he had plundered a lead in the 34th minute, but another VAR review showed the Napoli man had stepped offside just before Etebo released the ball.
The second half was a ding-dong after Ghanaian coach, Otto Addo, made a triple substitution at the start of the half that showed the intent to preserve their advantage. Wollacott made a fantastic save from a Balogun header in the 71st minute as the Black Stars kept the Eagles at arm’s length.
Five minutes were added on but the Eagles could not find a way through as the dream to qualify for a seventh World Cup faded in a packed MKO Moshood Abiola Stadium. The Ghanaians celebrated excitedly after getting one over their bitter rivals. The Eagles will try again in four years.
Some angry fans descended on the security men at the stadium at the end of the match, destroying everything in sight.
While some called for the heads of the players and their officials, others called for the resignation of NFF President, Amaju Pinnick, his board members and the Augustine Eguavoen-led technical crew.
The police had to use teargas to dispel the angry fans from the stadium last night.