• Saturday, June 15, 2024
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BusinessDay

Benin stun Super Eagles in jeopardy to Nigeria’s 2026 World Cup hopes

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Gernot Rohr’s Benin Republic side pulled off a surprising 2-1 victory against the Super Eagles of Nigeria in Monday’s 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying match at Stade Felix-Houphouet-Boigny, Abidjan.

Following a disappointing 1-1 draw against South Africa at the Godswill Akpabio international stadium on Friday, the Super Eagles had hoped to secure their first victory in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, but failed to get their first win after three consecutive draws, putting their hopes of participating in the next Mundial in serious doubt.

The Cheetahs’ win places them at the top of Group C with seven points from four matches, while Nigeria languishes in fifth place with just three points from four games.

Despite Nigeria’s early dominance, controlling possession and dictating play, Benin’s counter-attacking strategy proved effective.

Nigeria took the lead in the 27th minute when Samuel Chukwueze, after receiving a long pass, cut in from the right and set up Raphael Onyedika. Onyedika struck the ball cleanly into the left side of Benin’s goal. However, the lead was short-lived as Jodel Dossou capitalized on poor defending by Nigeria to equalize in the 37th minute.

Just before halftime, Benin took the lead again due to Nigeria’s defensive lapses. A poorly defended corner fell to Brest attacker Steve Mounie, who made no mistake in scoring to make it 2-1 for Benin.

This defeat marks a significant setback for Nigeria, whose 2026 World Cup qualification hopes are now in jeopardy. The tournament, set to be jointly hosted by Canada, the USA, and Mexico, seems a distant dream unless the Super Eagles can turn their fortunes around in the remaining qualifiers.

The Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) parted ways with Rohr in December 2021 after five years as head coach. Ironically, the German tactician has now led an underrated Benin side to victory over his former team, exacting a measure of revenge.

Only the team finishing in the top spot will be guaranteed a place at the 2026 FIFA World Cup in the USA, Canada, and Mexico, with the four best runners-up having a chance to qualify through a play-off.

The Super Eagles must now produce a much-improved run in their final six qualifying matches to to keep their World Cup dreams alive, with a lengthy break until their campaign resumes against Rwanda in March 2025. The Super Eagles will then host Zimbabwe a week later, followed by fixtures against Rwanda, South Africa, Lesotho, and Benin later in 2025.