Finidi George fails Nigeria as Benin Republic trump Super Eagles

A distraught Ademola Lookman was caged for 180 minutes. || Image credit: Imago


A distraught Ademola Lookman || Image credit: Imago

Finidi George fails Nigeria as Benin Republic trump Super Eagles

Faruq Ibrahim 18:59 - 10.06.2024

Nigeria risk missing out on consecutive World Cups for the first time since their first outing in 1994 after suffering a shock defeat to the Benin Republic.

Minnows Benin Republic shocked the Super Eagles, beating them 2-1 as they raced to the top of Group C in CAF's 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

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The Super Eagles needed to beat the Cheetahs to keep their World Cup qualification dreams alive after three consecutive draws left them fifth on the log. By losing to Gernot Rohr's side, Nigeria remain fifth on the log but are now four points away from the summit, which could become five if Lesotho beat Rwanda.

How it happened

Although the Benin Republic were officially the home team, the Super Eagles were returning to a familiar place in Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Abidjan, where they played three of their seven AFCON 2023 games, as the match took place in Ivory Coast.

Finidi George made three changes to the team that were held to a draw by South Africa. The injured Fisayo Dele-Bashiru was replaced by Club Brugge’s Raphael Onyedika; Terem Moffi started ahead of Paul Onuachu; and Samuel Chukwueze came in for Kelechi Iheanacho.

The visitors dominated possession in the opening exchanges, but as has been a trend recently, their final third play was imprecise and shoddy. The best chance borne out of the early superiority came around the 14th minute when Ademola Lookman slipped in Osayi-Samuel, who in turn curled the ball past Marcel Dandjinou, but the attempt was too wide. 

The deadlock was eventually broken in the 27th minute when Samuel Chukwueze was found in the channel on the left side of Benin Republic’s defence. The AC Milan man cut it back to Onyedika, who needed time to sort out his feet, and while the danger looked to have been contained, with two Beninois charging at him, the Club Brugge midfielder, with minimal backlift, curled the ball into the far-right corner.

Conceding seemed to spur on the hosts, who had since been kept quiet by the doggedness of the Super Eagles, who were defending in packs. The first sign of danger came from a set piece routine when Steve Mounie found himself 1v1 against Nwabali, however, he was offside. 

In the 37th minute, however, Jodel Dossou capitalised on questionable defending from the Nigerian backline, before calmly slotting past the outrushing Nwabali.

Just before half-time Gernot Rohr’s side shocked the Super Eagles. A wicked delivery from the corner kick spot was poorly cleared by Onyedika, who could only flick it into the back post. Benin Republic’s 14-goal talisman, Steve Mounie, was instinctively positioned as he pounced on the loose ball to give the hosts the lead.

Finidi was forced to make early second-half changes as he brought on two strikers, Paul Onuachu and Victor Boniface for Terem Moffi and Alex Iwobi. The Super Eagles continued to forray forward for an equaliser and came agonisingly close when Ademola Lookman’s glancing header from a Chukwueze in-swinger went wide.

The former Enyimba coach rang more changes around the hour mark when he brought on Remo Star’s Saduq Ismail and Rizespor’s Ibrahim Olawoyin and took off the two Samuels.

Nigeria pressed for an equaliser but continued to lack fluency in the final third. Benin Republic held on for a famous victory over their next-door neighbours and now lead the way in Group C.

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