ABUJA, March 30 – Nigeria’s failure to qualify for a second straight Africa Cup of Nations has sparked fears about the country’s chances of featuring in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Super Eagles failed to qualify for next year’s AFCON on Tuesday night, after a 1-0 defeat to Egypt in Alexandria which followed last Friday’s 1-1 draw in Kaduna.
The north African side top the qualifying group with seven points, five points clear of Nigeria, with both teams still having a final group game against bottom side Tanzania.
It will be the second consecutive tournament where the three-time African champions Nigeria will not feature in the finals and the team sent a contrite message to fans on Wednesday.
“We apologise for our inability to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. We gave this campaign our best efforts but sadly fell short,” read a message on the @NGSuperEagles Twitter account.
Interim coach Samson Siasia, who took over after Sunday Oliseh’s shock resignation a month ago, was more matter of fact.
“We inherited a broken bridge which we couldn’t fix. We only amended it,” he said.
– Tougher battle –
The Super Eagles said their “focus is to get these setbacks behind us and quickly regroup for the fast-approaching 2018 World Cup qualifiers starting in October”.
But Nigeria who made the finals in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014 likely face a tougher battle to qualify when the draw is staged in June, with a lowly FIFA ranking and a dispirited team.
“Honestly, we do not look good going into the World Cup qualifiers,” said former Nigeria international Garba Lawal, who featured at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups.
“Not qualifying for the biggest tournament in Africa, the Nations Cup, is a disaster on its own and the World Cup qualifiers will be a lot tougher.
“It is very disturbing because there are more questions than answers, like who is our next coach and what do we need to do to improve the current team?”
Nigeria’s run of poor results and another failure to qualify for a major tournament heaps pressure on the executive committee of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to step down.
Sports minister Solomon Dalung even hinted at possible major changes at the federation.
“Nigerians cannot accept any reason for failure from anybody, so we either deliver or we give way to those who can deliver success,” he said.
“After this abysmal performance at (the) AFCON qualifiers, it’s important we return to the drawing board to plan for the future of football in Nigeria.
“We have no good reason not to qualify if we had planned well and also organised ourselves, rather it was crisis all the way rocking the NFF.”
– Foreign coach –
The leadership crisis in the NFF saw coach Stephen Keshi start the AFCON qualifying campaign in June last year against Chad.
But he was fired after an unhappy relationship with his employers. Oliseh replaced him only to quit last month, citing lack of support and breach of contract, including unpaid wages.
Siasia was then appointed for the back-to-back matches against Egypt, only for Pinnick to announce that the federation is seeking a permanent foreign coach.
Several European coaches have already been contacted, including Uganda’s Serbian handler Milutin ‘Micho’ Sredojevic and the former Cameroon coach Paul Le Guen.
Claude Le Roy, who has worked with several African countries such as Senegal, Congo and DR Congo, has also been approached.
But whoever is appointed is likely to come up against the same difficulties as Keshi and Oliseh.
The poor finances of the state-funded NFF have prompted the withdrawal of several sponsors and forced the federation to tighten its belt.
That and contract defaults will certainly not win the confidence of the next coach.