By Niyi Busari
Players and coaches of the Super Eagles were on Tuesday evening left lamenting over the deplorable state of the pitch at Siaka Stephens Stadium in Freetown, Sierra Leone, which they claimed accounted for their inability to score against their hosts.
The Eagles were desperate to rain goals and atone for the shock 4-4 draw they were forced to swallow during the first leg last Friday in Benin City, but Gernot Rohr’s side could only settle for a goalless finish on the bad turf in the Sierra Leonean capital.
BSNSports.com.ng can report that, at the end of the tepid encounter, the Eagles’ qualification to the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon was put on hold for months, as both Anglophone West African countries played out a scoreless draw in Freetown.
The Eagles, who still top Group L with eight points from four matches, The Nigerians, though, met a resilient Leone Stars’ squad, spurred on by a special incentive of a blank cheque made by their president, Julius Maada Bio should they defeat their more illustrious visitors.
The Leone Stars approached the game with some gusto, and sought to wear down the Eagles with their team work, cohesion and fast breaks, but it was Nigeria that created the early chances, with Captain Ahmed Musa shooting wide and goalkeeper Mohamed Kamara saving from Kelechi Iheanacho within the first three minutes. In the 11th minute, Mohamed Turay, who pestered the Eagles’ defence relentlessly, headed over the bar from a cross by Kei Kamara.
In the 22nd minute, Nigeria’s goalkeeper, Emil Maduka Okoye saved from Kwame Quee, and on the half hour, Iheanacho wasted a great chance to put Nigeria ahead by shooting wild just outside the box.
Two minutes later, Joseph Ayodele-Aribo, needing just to place the ball beyond the goalkeeper in the box, fluffed his lines, but Iheanacho wasted another opportunity in the 37th minute, before the Leone Stars came agonizingly close on two occasions before referee Tawel Camara Younoussa blew for half time.
Nigeria then suffered a setback just before halftime when their most outstanding player in Benin City, Oghenekaro Etebo, was forced out by injury to be replaced by Shehu Abdullahi, while Mustapha Dumbuya was the mainstay of the Sierra Leone defence in the absence of suspended skipper Umar Bangura.
The ding-dong continued in the second half. In the 52nd minute, after great work by Samuel Chukwueze and gifted the ball to simply place beyond the reach of goalkeeper Kamara, Iheanacho again lifted the ball too high.
Alex Iwobi and Iheanacho also missed chances as the game wore on, but the Leone Stars also had their own chances, with Turay and Kei Kamara raiding the Nigeria goal area now and again, even as The Leone Stars sent on more attackers including Anderlecht winger Mustapha Bundu to get the goal they needed to revive their flagging AFCON hopes.
Nonetheless, the draw keeps Nigeria at the top of Group L with eight points, one more than second –placed Benin Republic, who also ended their encounter with Lesotho in Maseru scoreless. Sierra Leone stay third with three points, and Lesotho bottom of the table with two.
Next up for the Super Eagles is the Day 5 clash with second placed Benin Republic in Cotonou in March 2021.Sierra Leone are third on three points and Lesotho bottom having recorded two points; with two rounds of matches to played in March 2021.
Super Eagles Starting XI vs Sierra Leone in Freetown 4-2-3-1: Maduka Okoye, Kevin Akpoguma (Awaziem), Ola Aina, William Ekong, Leon Balogun – Joe Aribo (Semi Ajayi), Oghenekaro Etebo (Shehu Abdullahi) – Chukwueze, Iwobi, Ahmed Musa (Captain) – Iheanacho (Emmanuel Dennis)