Three-time African champions Nigeria have crashed out of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon after losing 1-0 to Egypt in the reverse fixture of their Group G match played at the Borg El Arab Stadium, Alexandria on Tuesday.
A lone goal from 19-year-old Ramadan Sobhy gave the Pharaohs the three points, which extended their lead at the summit of the group’s table. Egypt now have seven points from three matches while Nigeria are second with two points from the same number of matches. Tanzania are third with one point. Points were deducted from group members after Chad pulled out from the qualifiers and competition.
Coach Samson Siasia kept faith with the backline that drew 1-1 against Egypt in Kaduna: Abdullahi Shehu, Stanley Amuzie, Efe Ambrose and Godfrey Oboabona while Chippa United goalkeeper, Daniel Akpeyi, was in goal in place of injured first-choice, Carl Ikeme.
The coach also retained Oghenekaro Etebo and Mikel Obi but Umar Aminu started in place of Kelechi Iheanacho. The attack had only one change as Victor Moses started in place of Simon Moses. Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa kept their places in the attack.
The Egyptians created the better chances in the first half but Nigeria also had a few moments during a goalless first half at the packed stadium. Nigeria grew into the game but could not get a meaningful shot past the Egyptian defence.
In the 41st minute of the game, Nigeria goalkeeper Akpeyi pulled off two big saves from Ibrahim Salah and the captain Al-Said. The two efforts were from set-pieces.
Siasia, in the 46th minute, brought on Elderson Echiejile for Amuzie to stabilise the defence but it did little to stop the rampaging Egyptian attack. Azubuike Okechukwu was also brought on in the 62nd minute after an injury to Etebo.
But in the 64th minute, Sobhy broke Nigerian hearts after the Eagles defence failed to effectively deal with a set-piece. The 19-year-old’s shot was deflected past Akpeyi by the Nigerian defenders.
The Eagles fought to get an equaliser but the closest they got was in the 83rd minute when Moses’ shot cannoned off the upright.
A former President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Kojo Williams, lamented Nigeria’s elimination describing it as utter embarrassment and shame.
Kojo, who spoke with The PUNCH soon after the match in Alexandria, said it was unthinkable that the country would miss out of Africa’s biggest football fiesta twice consecutively while insisting that the way forward was beyond using a local or a foreign coach.
He said, “It goes beyond employing a foreign or Nigerian coach and I won’t involve myself with that. The truth is that we have no philosophy; no pattern. We have to sit down and re-jig our football and develop a serious football culture.”
“It’s a disgrace; it’s a disaster that we won’t be in Gabon. If we are using local coaches, we need to retrain them. It was a Dutchman and not a Spaniard who developed Barcelona’s football and they have adapted and maintained the style and philosophy over the years. That is how to develop football. But we are all busy here talking about Arsenal and Chelsea. The federation has to put their acts together and get a system that is working otherwise we will continue like this.
“Nigerians must stand up and say, ‘enough is enough.’ The foundation is too faulty; no structure and so nothing strong can be built upon that. The problem isn’t about venue or the colour of the skin but getting the technical team right. How can nations be rising and playing fluid soccer and we are sliding down? We have to map out a long-term plan.”