Unless the Home-based Eagles are able to beat Togo by three unreplied goals next month, Nigeria can as well forget about playing in next year’s African Nations Championship (CHAN) after conceding 1-4 defeat in Lome yesterday.
The Imama Amapakabo led team was thoroughly overwhelmed by the Togolese in the first leg of the final playoff.
Nasarawa United’s NPFL joint top scorer last season, Sunusi Ibrahim, gave Nigeria the lead after just eight minutes, before the home team drew level on 16 minutes through Richard Nane. Nane got his brace in the 70th minute.
The home team increased their lead from the penalty spot to 3-1 and then made it even more difficult for Nigeria by adding a fourth goal in the closing moments of the contest.
The CHAN Eagles were made up in the main by the country’s U23s with a sprinkling of experienced campaigners like captain Mfon Udoh, goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai and striker Sikiru Alimi.
Ndifreke Effiong was booked, so too right back John Lazarus who along with left-back Ebube Duru struggled to cope with the pace of the game.
The CHAN Eagles, who reached the 2018 CHAN final in Morocco, will big now to go through to Cameroon 2020.
Speaking shortly after the game, Head Coach of the Home-based Eagles, Imama Amapakabo, however remains optimistic that the result of the match at Stade de Kegue would not determine which team qualifies.
He made it clear to sportswriters that his team never underrated the Togolese, but admitted that there is a huge job to be done in the return leg.
“No, we never underrated our opponents. That would have been a foolish thing to do in football. The truth is that we fielded mainly a young team that could not really live up to expectations technically compared to the senior players in the Togolese side who have gained experience over the years.
“However, we have taken this as a learning curve moving forward and awaiting the return match.”
He remains confident that the situation is still redeemable.
“It is wrong to think that this match would determine which team goes through. We know there is a second match and no two games can ever be the same. From now until October 19, it is still quite some time away to make amends and produce the right form for the work ahead. It is after the match in Nigeria that it can become clear who qualifies,” he concluded.
CHAN Eagles starting XI vs Togo
Theophilus Afelokhai – Ebube Duru, John Lazarus, Olisa Ndah, Dennis Nya – Fatai Gbadamosi, Ndifreke Effiong, Samuel Matthias – Mfon Udoh (captain) (Chisom Orji), Sikiru Alimi, Sunusi Ibrahim