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2026 FIFA World Cup: Why Eagles may not qualify

2026 FIFA World Cup: Why Eagles may not qualify
July 21
17:13 2023

We failed to qualify for the last FIFA World Cup due to the ineptitude of those charged with the responsibility of managing our football. We had everything we needed to blight the Black Stars of Ghana yet we could not manage to qualify for the most prestigious football tournament in the world. 

Prior to the final two-leg round of matches, most football pundits expected our Super Eagles to resoundingly beat the less endowed team from Ghana.

We had all the players that could secure home and away victories for our team, yet, it was Ghana that got us ousted . The final leg being played in Nigeria notwithstanding.

How did we miss our golden chance? Simple answer is that we never planned to win. Our players were not adequately prepared for victory. Our football administrators believed all they needed to do was just present a team to play. They never created the necessary atmosphere to help the players win. While the qualification for the World Cup was yet to be secured, inept officials were already planning on how they will squander anticipated windfall from a qualification ticket. To ingratiate themselves with a President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) they sought to impress, they made him a guest of honour in a match the Eagles were condemned to win. He was smuggled out of the stadium when a better-prepared Black Stars clipped our wings at the Abuja Stadium.

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We missed the last World Cup through the stupidity of our football officials. Facts available indicate we may again miss out from appearing in the 2026 Finals. We are grouped together with Lesotho, Benin Republic, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Rwanda. In this class, we are the highest FIFA-ranked team. Additionally, we have the largest collection of more exposed football players. In other words, we are the team to beat amongst the six!

According to the schedule every team in the group will play each other on a home and away basis. This means that the Super Eagles, like the other five teams, will play 10 matches. The squad with the most points will secure a place at the finals. In essence our team, the Super Eagles will play five matches at home and five outside the country. How will we fare? I am afraid the prognosis isn’t good. First, less than three months to our first match no one can say with any certainty who would coach our team. The contract with the current one is as good as expired. While the contract lasted he has not covered himself in glory, securing a meager 26 per cent win rate since his employment! An NFF more noted for its tardiness is not likely to decide on a coach until it is too late.

We must not fail to realise that the Super Eagles usually drop points against weaker oppositions; so our matches against teams from Lesotho, Rwanda and Zimbabwe offer no guarantees!!

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South Africa, generally expected to offer the stiffest opposition to Nigeria are more organised than we are. Already their qualification plan is to win all home matches and eke out away wins in Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Rwanda. If you add the fact that the Bafana Bafana team has much less travels to do than our team you will know that the odds favour the South Africans more.

But despite all these difficulties we would still be able to secure the ticket from Group C if we put our house in order. First, we must immediately appoint a coach for the Super Eagles. I do not think Jose Peseiro would do. We should therefore look inwards and appoint a coach from amongst the local coaches who have had some form of relationship with the bulk of the present squad. The coach must be saddled with the responsibility of fashioning out a strategy of winning all our home matches in addition to winning at least two of the away ones and going through the 10 without conceding a defeat.

In prosecuting our matches, the core of our team must include at least three of our best home-based players. This is because home-based players put in more that the foreign ones.

We must as of necessity set up a World Cup support committee immediately. The task of this body is to help ensure that the Eagles are adequately supported to win all their matches. They will ensure that winning and match bonuses are paid promptly. They will see to the travel arrangements of the team and help in boosting the morale of the team. The committee would also provide intelligence reports on our opponents.

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Qualifying from our group is doable but the NFF must get it’s acts together. We cannot miss a second consecutive World Cup. As it is, time is fast running out for us. With countries like Morocco, Tunisia, and Senegal establishing some dominance in the African soccer firmament, the Eagles must use qualifying for the World Cup as a stepping stone to reenact our greatness in Africa and world football.

Will the NFF rise to the occasion and grab a ticket to the next World Cup? The answer is blowing in the wind.

Balogun, a former ace sportscaster, is one of Nigeria’s longest celebrated sports columnists.

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