The Super Eagles suffered a catastrophic capitulation in the second half as Sierra Leone staged a scarcely believable comeback from four goals to grab a share of the spoils in a 2021 AFCON qualifier at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin on Friday.
The Super Eagles raced into a four goal lead before the half hour mark as an Alex Iwobi double and strikes from Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze put them in cruise control.
Needing just two wins from their last four games to secure a place in Cameroon, Nigeria must have thought they had the job half done and not even a goal just before half time by Kwame Quee could have offered a sense of what was to come in the second period.
The prematch conversations had been dominated by concerns over an air of apparent nonchalance in Nigeria’s preparations after videos showed Edo State deputy governor Philip Shuaibu, Sports Minister Sunday Dare and NFF president Amaju Pinnick participating in the Super Eagles training.
And the concerns proved to be well founded as the three-time African champions suffered an incredible meltdown to concede thrice in the second half.
A strike against the woodwork a minute after resumption was as good as it good for Nigeria after the interval as the team appeared to lose all shape following the 65th minute substitutions of Leon Balogun and Ahmed Musa who gave way for Semi Ajayi and Kelechi Iheanacho respectively.
Nigeria’s woes compounded after Osimhen was stretched off with a serious looking injury minutes after Al-Hadji Kamara pulled one back for the visitors.
Thereafter, all appearance of composure in the Eagles midfield and defence disintegrated as the Leone Stars ran roughshod over the Eagles with every attack looking likely to result in a goal.
Mustapha Bundu put the away side one goal from a leveller in the 80th minute and Kamara completed his brace six minutes later to complete an unlikely comeback for the visitors.
Iheanacho went close with a free kick late on but the damage had already been done and the Leone Stars held on for an incredible point to leave Nigeria reeling at the end.
Eagles boss Gernot Rohr will have a lot to answer for not least how his side managed to look worse than a boys team in a shambolic second half showing.
Maduka Okoye failed to convince in goal and after his uncertain showing, it wouldn’t surprise to see Daniel Akpeyi restored for the return trip in four days time.
Nigeria will have a chance to restore some pride in Freetown next week, but first they must endure a brutal inquest into what was a disastrous performance against the Leone Stars and perhaps, they might approach that game with a bit more seriousness than they managed this time.
The Eagles still lead Group L with seven points, with the Leone Stars still third on two points, ahead of the pool’s other clash between Benin Republic and Lesotho in Cotonou on Saturday.
Whatever the result, the Eagles will maintain their place at the summit of the table, but victory for Lesotho would drive the Leone Stars to the bottom despite Friday’s feat in Benin City.