The Super Eagles got the shock of a lifetime on Thursday when, against all odds, they fell to an embarrassing 1-0 defeat at home to the lowly Central African Republic on matchday three of the World Cup qualifying campaign.
The clash between the 34th and 124th best teams in the FIFA rankings was expected by many to go the way of the Nigerians.
Still, Karl Namnganda netted a 90th-minute winner to hand another historic victory to a modern-day David placed in the ring with Goliath.
The return leg follows almost immediately in Cameroon, with Nigeria presented with the chance to salvage some of their battered honours against the Central Africans.
The Super Eagles still sit top of Group C with six points, but the Central African Republic and the Cape Verde Islands are in hot pursuit with four points.
The Wild Beasts surprised many, and themselves even, with that dramatic win at the Teslim Balogun Stadium.
The Central African Republic were the big underdogs in Lagos. They had not won any of their nine previous games and never qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations or the FIFA World Cup.
But against the Super Eagles, they were organised for the most part, nullified the threat of their illustrious opponents, carried out their game plan to the letter, and merited all three points for their tireless endeavour.
With the remarkable win, Raoul Savoy’s men have succeeded in blowing Group C wide open. Another triumph for them, as well as a Cape Verde win against Liberia, could see Nigeria fall to third with two group matches left.
Les Fauves would wish they could do the next battle with the Super Eagles in front of their fans in Bangui, but their ‘home’ fixture is set for the Japoma Stadium, in Douala, Cameroon.
That would rob them of a slight edge, but they have shown that they can be dangerous customers when underestimated.
There was nothing super about the Eagles on Thursday as a combination of wasteful finishing, uncoordinated team play, and horrible defending pushed the 2013 Afcon kings into their first World Cup qualifying defeat in over two decades.
Gernot Rohr’s men get an immediate chance to rectify that anomaly when the two teams meet again on Sunday, knowing that a win could put a lot of things right, push the critics back a bit, and set the side back on course for qualification for Qatar 2022.
To exact his pound of flesh, the German tactician will need to find a strategy to counter the defensive setup of the Wild Beasts.
Kelechi Iheanacho remains Rohr’s favourite option to partner with Victor Osimhen, but Chidera Ejuke could make way for Bordeaux ace Samuel Kalu on the left side of attack.
Moses Simon was poor three days ago, which could open the door for captain Ahmed Musa to start in Douala, with a charge to deliver better quality crosses into the danger area for Osimhen to work with.
Any of Alanyaspor’s Chidozie Awaziem, Hoffenheim’s Kevin Akpoguma, and Leganes’ Kenneth Omeruo will likely take the place of the disappointing Leon Balogun beside William Troost-Ekong in the heart of the defence.
With Oghenekaro Etebo and Alex Iwobi unavailable, Rangers Joe Aribo cannot be benched, but Rohr could swap Porto’s Zaidu Sanusi directly for Jamilu Collins to add a bit of attacking bite down the left side.
Goalkeeper Francis Uzoho was not to blame for the CAR’s winner in Lagos, and the 22-year-old ought to continue between the posts ahead of Sparta Rotterdam shot-stopper Maduka Okoye.
Central African Republic probable lineup (4-2-3-1): Samola; Ngam-Ngam, Ndobe, Guinari, Yangao; Niamathe, Ndokomandji; Urie, Toropite, Damona; M’Vondo
Nigeria probably lineup 4-3-3:
Uzoho; Aina, Troost-Ekong, Awaziem, Collins; Onyeka, Aribo, Iheanacho; Musa, Kalu, Osimhen.
That shocking CAR victory a few days ago threw many a bettor under the bus.
The Super Eagles remain the favourites to claim their first-ever win over the Central African Republic, but betting against the underdogs twice in four days does not appear smart.
The odds for both sides to find the back of the net do look good, though.
The Wild Beasts have shown they can create and take chances while it is near-impossible to shut out a talented Nigerian attack twice in less than a week.
Betting Tip: Both teams to score.