Defending champions Nigeria are perilously close to missing next year’s Africa Cup of Nations soccer championship in Morocco.
Sudan shocked the three-time title holders 1-0 last Saturday to move into third place in its group.
Nigeria is at the bottom of the points standing after also suffering a shocking 3-2 loss to Congo at home and drawing nil-all with South Africa on the road.
Stephen Keshi, who is coaching the side without a contract, attributes the team’s struggles to troubling off-field issues.
Keshi, whose contract was not renewed after the World Cup in Brazil, is temporarily in charge of the team after the Nigerian sports minister’s intervention. Contract talks have been stalled because of the country’s soccer body leadership struggle that prompted a league boycott and led to the International Soccer Federation (FIFA) banning the West African country from global soccer for nine days last July.
“There is sabotage,” said Keshi after the loss to Sudan. “I won’t mention their names, but they know themselves. They want to run this team down. Some people are ready to sell this country for a dime. They want to sabotage the Super Eagles. It’s a shame. They don’t want this team to get to the Nations Cup. They want this team to lose outright.”
Newly-elected Nigerian Soccer Federation president, Amaju Pinnick, said a hasty decision on Keshi’s future will not be made despite the team’s disappointing showing so far.
“It’s embarrassing that as reigning champions, we are struggling in the qualifying series with only one point out of a possible nine,” said Pinnick. “It’s an awful output. However, we want our people to be patient and not stampede the federation to take knee-jerk decisions that will backfire in the end.”
Nigeria, which hosted Sudan in the return match yesterday at the Abuja Stadium, will complete the round with matches against Congo on the road on November 15 and South Africa at home four days later.
South Africa shut out Congo 2-0 to lead the group with seven points. Congo is in second spot with six points, followed by Sudan with three and Nigeria which has one point.
Ghana is at the top of its group despite being held to a one-all draw by Guinea in Morocco. Uganda fell 1-0 to Togo to relinquish its grip at the top of the points table.
“We are happy to get three points away in Uganda and we shall now fight to get another three next week at home,” said Togo’s striker, Emmanuel Adebayor.
Despite playing on the road because of the Ebola outbreak and a row between the country’s sports ministry and the soccer federation that led to Atto Mensah stepping down as coach last week, Sierra Leone held three-time champions Cameroon to a nil-all draw in Yaoundé.
In the other group fixture, 1992 champions Ivory Coast beat the Democratic Republic of Congo 2-1.
Cameroon remains at the top of the group with seven points, followed by Ivory Coast with six, the Democratic Republic of Congo with three and Sierra Leone, which has a point.
The other group leaders are Senegal, Cape Verde, Gabon and Algeria, which is the only team with the maximum nine points after shutting out Malawi 2-0 last Saturday.
The top two countries in each group plus the best third-place finisher will qualify for the finals along with host country, Morocco. The finals take place from January 17 to February 8.
Meantime, Zambia’s captain, Chris Katongo, has left the squad after a row with the team’s coaching staff. The 31-year-old midfielder, who has represented his country on 86 occasions since 2003, appeared as a substitute in the 76th minute in his team’s nil-all draw with Niger last weekend.
The 2012 British Broadcasting Corporation African Soccer Player of the Year plays professionally in South Africa.