Eagles return to Abuja after Malawi draw

Nigeria’s Super Eagles return to Abuja on Sunday after their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil qualifying match in Blantyre ended 1-1.

They will return to Abuja on Sunday afternoon.

Next up for the Eagles is a must-win 2013 African Cup of Nations qualifier against Rwanda in Calabar on Saturday.

Both teams ended it 0-0 in Kigali on February 29 and Nigeria must win to progress to the last round of the qualification series in September.

The Eagles are expected in Calabar, venue of the match on Monday.

A horrendous mistake by goalkeeper and skipper Vincent Enyeama enabled Malawi to equalize with almost the last kick of the game and deny Nigeria of the full three points in a 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil qualifying match on Saturday.

Stephen Keshi’s work-in-progress stood firmly against the fast runs and enthusiasm of the home team, who created plenty of chances in the opening period. But even at that, the Eagles would blame themselves for conceding in a match that many thought had been won and lost.

The Flames have much to thank goalkeeper Simplex Nthara for, as he stood between striker Ikechukwu Uche and goal on at least two occasions in the first half, just as the Eagles also survived the hangman in some instances.

Midfielder Gabriel Reuben (In pic), who had a great game despite being badly hacked seconds into the game, rose above the defence to powerfully nod Nigeria in front in the 89th minute, off a corner kick by equally hard-working Ejike Uzoenyi.

Enyeama had a simple job to do to push away a floated ball in the area, after hollering at his defenders to leave the ball for him. But he went for the ball with only one hand and fumbled, leaving the Malawians with a heaven-sent opportunity to earn a point on the day.

It was heartbreaking, as Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn blew off the game immediately after the restart.

The match itself was fast-paced with the Malawians asking most of the questions in the first 15 minutes. Joseph Kamwendo, Chimango Kayira and Robin Ngalande were particularly dangerous. But they either wasted the chances that came their way or the central pair of Godfrey Oboabona and Azubuike Egwueke thwarted them.

Enyeama’s day began on an anxious note, as a mistake by him led to Malawi earning a free-kick at the edge of the box with only five minutes played.

Three minutes later, Enyeama had to be at his best to punch over a vicious shot by Kayira, and at the other end, Nigerians were on their feet to celebrate a goal when Ikechukwu Uche freed himself to a one-on-one with Nthara. Nthara saved.

Another shot by Uche, who scored Nigeria’s goal in the 1-0 win over Namibia in Calabar on Sunday, was saved before Efe Ambrose thwarted a dangerous-looking pull-out by the lively Atusaye Nyondo. A minute later, Ngalande rocked Enyeama’s upright.

In the 20th minute, Ejike Uzoenyi should have released the ball earlier after great work from the right. In the 26th minute, James Kamwendo came pretty close, while Ngalande and Malawi could have been celebrating three minutes later but the ball missed target.

A mis-timed kick by left back Juwon Oshaniwa with six minutes left in the half freed the Flames again but Enyeama was alert. However, it should have been Nigeria ahead on the clock when Ikechukwu Uche got behind the defence in 41st minute, only for Nthara to read him well once more.

On the hour mark, Uche’s header was again saved. But at the other end, Malawi also came close.

The exit of Obiora Nwankwo, who had a miserable game, for recuperating Raheem Lawal with 15 minutes to go changed the complexion of the game, as Nigeria asserted themselves in the middle and played with greater confidence, looking menacing. Three minutes to the end, Nthara again foiled Ikechukwu Uche, but the Malawian shot-stopper had no answer to Gabriel Reuben’s powerful header from Ejike Uzoenyi’s corner kick in the 89th minute.

It should have ended that way, but Enyeama fumbled, and the spoils were shared.

At the end, NFF President, Alhaji Aminu Maigari, said: “It is unfortunate that they (Malawi) scored with that last touch and denied us three points. But I believe our boys did well considering the fact that this team is work-in-progress.

“We would have loved the three points, which appeared to be in the bag, but we must look ahead and plan how to win the remaining four games in order to qualify for the last round of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.”

Member of CAF Technical Committee, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde, was shocked by the final-minute howler. “This is a case of two points lost. We had the three points. I don’t understand why Enyeama didn’t allow his defender to head the ball away.”

Chairman of the NFF Technical Committee, Barrister Chris Green, who had been in Blantyre since Wednesday, said: “The equalizer was very painful. Three points would have been just reward for our hard work today. But we cannot be crying over spilt milk.”

NFF General Secretary, Barrister Musa Amadu, was pained. “We were already on our feet to celebrate three points. This kind of thing can be painful. After Gabriel Reuben scored, we should have found a way to keep the advantage.”

On his part, former international midfielder and member of NFF Technical Committee, Garba Lawal simply said: “Hard luck, my brother. That is football for you. Sometimes, you just can’t explain how things turn out.”
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