A horrendous mistake by goalkeeper and skipper Vincent Enyeama enabled Malawi to equalize with almost the last kick of the game and deny Nigeria of the full three points in a 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil qualifying match on Saturday.
Stephen Keshi’s work-in-progress stood firmly against the fast runs and enthusiasm of the home team, who created plenty of chances in the opening period. But even at that, the Eagles would blame themselves for conceding in a match that many thought had been won and lost.
The Flames have much to thank goalkeeper, Simplex Nthara for, as he stood between striker, Ikechukwu Uche and goal on at least two occasions in the first half, just as the Eagles also survived the hangman in some instances.
Midfielder, Gabriel Reuben, who had a great game despite being badly hacked seconds into the game, rose above the defence to powerfully nod Nigeria in front in the 89th minute, off a corner kick by equally hard-working Ejike Uzoenyi.
Enyeama had a simple job to do to push away a floated ball in the area, after hollering at his defenders to leave the ball for him. But he went for the ball with only one hand and fumbled, leaving the Malawians with a heaven-sent opportunity to earn a point on the day.
It was heartbreaking, as Mauritian referee, Rajindraparsad Seechurn blew off the game immediately after the restart.
The match itself was fast-paced with the Malawians asking most of the questions in the first 15 minutes. Joseph Kamwendo, Chimango Kayira and Robin Ngalande were particularly dangerous. But they either wasted the chances that came their way or the central pair of Godfrey Oboabona and Azubuike Egwueke thwarted them.
Enyeama’s day began on an anxious note, as a mistake by him led to Malawi earning a free-kick at the edge of the box with only five minutes played.
At the end, NFF President, Alhaji Aminu Maigari, said: “It is unfortunate that they (Malawi) scored with that last touch and denied us three points. But I believe our boys did well considering the fact that this team is work-in-progress.
“We would have loved the three points, which appeared to be in the bag, but we must look ahead and plan how to win the remaining four games in order to qualify for the last round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.”
Member of CAF Technical Committee, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, was shocked by the final-minute howler.
“This is a case of two points lost. We had the three points. I don’t understand why Enyeama didn’t allow his defenders to head the ball away.”
Chairman of the NFF Technical Committee, Chris Green, who had been in Blantyre since Wednesday, said: “The equalizer was very painful. Three points would have been just reward for our hard work today. But we cannot be crying over spilt milk.”
On his part, former international midfielder and member of NFF Technical Committee, Garba Lawal simply said: “Hard luck, my brother. That is football for you. Sometimes, you just can’t explain how things turn out.”
The Nigeria delegation to Blantyre will return to Abuja on Sunday afternoon.
Next up for the Eagles is a must-win 2013 African Cup of Nations qualifier against Rwanda in Calabar on Saturday. Both teams ended it 0-0 in Kigali on February 29 and Nigeria must win to progress to the last round of the qualification series in September.