Victor Osimhen's injury tops bleak day for Nigeria Super Eagles

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Dessers honoured to play for Nigeria (1:14)

Belgium-born striker Cyriel Dessers discusses his journey from lower leagues to a Nigeria International. (1:14)

If ever there was a game of two halves...

Nigeria somehow contrived to surrender a 4-0 first-half lead as Sierra Leone fought back to claim a 4-4 draw and were well within their rights to believe they could have secured the win given a few more minutes.

Alex Iwobi scored a brace, Victor Osimhen added to his legend and Samuel Chukwueze scored a brilliant individual goal as Nigeria raced ahead in their Africa Cup of Nations qualifier at Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City.

But the Super Eagles were pegged back after the Leone Stars had found a way back into the game through Kwame Quee just before halftime. Alhaji Kamara weighed in with a brace and Mustapha Bundu completed the comeback -- Sierra Leone scoring all three second-half goals in the final 18 minutes to draw.

The Super Eagles purred like an expensive luxury sports car in the first half but looked the worse for wear in the second, plodding along like a rusty jalopy on its last legs before that final trip to the scrapyard.

A bleak day for Nigeria went from bad to worse as news came after the game that Osimhen had dislocated a shoulder when he went down midway through the second half.

But this was about more than just one player.

Gernot Rohr makes wrong kind of history as pressure mounts

Rohr's tenure as Super Eagles coach has been marked by history-making or -equalling moments. He featured the country's youngest side ever at the World Cup, played every player in his squad at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, and invited and featured the most players born or raised abroad.

But he was also in charge for Nigeria's first competitive loss to South Africa, and, on Friday, he added to that unwanted chapter in history. His team became the first Nigerian side to fail to win after scoring four goals. And at home, to boot. They also became the first Super Eagles side to concede four goals at home since 1959, when Egypt won 6-2 in Lagos.

For a coach who has been under scrutiny despite a contract extension, this was a disaster on all fronts.

The complaints focused as usual on Rohr's supposed tactical deficiencies, his reluctance to react with substitutions even as his team was taking punishment, and his failure to change the system.

The Nigeria Football Federation, as expected, has not been slow to act, with president Amaju Pinnick calling immediately for an emergency meeting with the coaching staff on Saturday to explain exactly what happened.

Rohr will not be fired, but he will know in no uncertain terms given he may have been skating on thin ice previously that a few more inches just melted away. Only a win against Sierra Leone in the reverse fixture in Freetown in four days' time will assure him some job security.

Sierra Leone have never scored four goals away from home, certainly not against a team of Nigeria's calibre, and their FA president, Isha Johansen, was "ecstatic and proud".

"I told them this morning during my pep talk with them that I had a strong feeling that we were going to come out of this match with pride," Johansen told ESPN.

"I told them something good is going to come out of this match.

"I never lost faith. When we were at 4-2, I knew we were going for the kill!"

Victor Osimhen's injury

Nothing illustrated the fortunes of the Super Eagles like the up-and-down day suffered by their goalscorers on the night.

Iwobi scored twice, including a fantastic second from range, and then ended up playing giveaways to the opposition, one of which directly led to a goal.

Chukwueze was no different. He sat down both a defender and the goalkeeper with sublime skill as he scored into the roof of the net, then faffed around with the ball in his half, giving up possession which again led to a goal.

Osimhen's misfortune was just bad luck.

He scored Nigeria's second goal to take his tally for the Afcon qualifying campaign to four, and he went close to claiming a fifth when his glancing header skimmed back off the angle of the post. Later he collided with a defender and left the pitch on a stretcher with what the coach said was a dislocated shoulder.

"Shoulder luxation," Rohr told ESPN when asked about the Napoli striker's injury.

"He will be out for a few weeks."

Osimhen, who is leading the Afcon scorers' chart, may now see himself overtaken in the race as he seeks to follow in Odion Ighalo's footsteps as Afcon qualifying top scorer.

Players must take responsibility

For all the blame that will go to Rohr for this result, and rightfully so, the players must also accept that they, more than the coach, are responsible for this debacle.

For all the talk about tactics, formations and substitutions, in the end the result came down to them, It came down to heart, passion, and "wanting it more".

The Super Eagles showed some of that character in the first half, and they were duly rewarded. In the second half, however, they were second best and the punishment was swift.

The visitors were first to loose balls, won 50-50 challenges, and picked up second balls with ease.

When they advanced forward, the Super Eagles looked for the world like a checkpoint with no checks.

The defense failed to win headers, the midfield were beaten to tackles, and the forwards kept coughing up possession.

Sources tell ESPN that there were some dressing-room recriminations after the game, and team captain Ahmed Musa was apologetic for the performance.

"On behalf of myself and my teammates, we are really really sorry for the disappointment of the game tonight," Musa said.

"We know we made a big mistake but there is nothing we can do. That is football. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose."

All of that will be of no consequence unless it leads to a big win at Freetown in four days' time.

Paul Onuachu disappoints again

Paul Onuachu must be wondering what gods he has offended, and he and his fans will be hard-pressed to say that he has not been given enough opportunity.

The Genk striker was sent into the action when Osimhen was injured, but the most notable contribution he offered was that of going down clumsily under a challenge.

It is befuddling how he seems to be all thumbs when he plays for Nigeria then returns to his club and immediately becomes an expert marksman.

Rohr will now have to make a decision on the striker. There is just one more opportunity for Onuachu to pull his national team chestnut from the fire, the return leg in four days. Whether he gets the opportunity or not is up to the coach. If he does, he best take it because it does not look like there will be another in the immediate future.

Benin fans show love then not so much

Nigeria have not played a game in Benin City since 2011, when the Super Eagles drew 0-0 in a friendly with Botswana in Stephen Keshi's second match in charge.

They last played a competitive game in Benin City in 2003, when a young Osaze Odemwingie came to the rescue in the 2-2 Afcon qualifying draw with Angola.

Not having seen their team for so long, it was only to be expected that Benin fans were extremely welcoming prior to the game.

So despite being locked out of the game due to COVID-19 protocols, they still crowded outside to cheer the team.

Which made their disappointment at the result even more acute.

Fans who have enjoyed great football teams like the Insurance of old brook no nonsense, and they made their feelings clear after the game.

The Super Eagles were booed on their way out of the stadium, and a few projectiles were hurled at the team bus.

Locked down for months without sport, these fans were looking for an outlet for their joy.

But this result, after Nigeria's draw with Tunisia and defeat by Algeria in the previous international break, left a sour taste in the mouth and the Super Eagles know it.