The Super Eagles of Nigeria on Thursday at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo, fluffed the chance to go top of Group C of the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier table as they could only manage a 1-1 draw against a lowly rated Crocodile of Lesotho in spite of the three-time African champions heavily favoured to triumph.
With Thursday’s draw, the Super Eagles are condemned to win their next game against the Warriors of Zimbabwe at the Huye Stadium in Butare, Rwanda, tomorrow to be in good stead of qualifying for the 2026 Mundial after missing out of the last edition in Qatar.
Against the general opinion that Super Eagles underestimated their Thursday opponent culminating in their 1-1 draw, the team’s defender, Semi Ajayi, has refuted the claim.
The match saw Lesotho seize an unexpected lead with Motlomelo Mkhwanazi’s goal in the 56th minute and despite creating multiple chances, the Super Eagles struggled to capitalise until Semi Ajayi equalised for the home side.
Speaking to the press post-match, the West Bromwich Albion defender adamantly denied any underestimation.
“Absolutely not. We took this game very seriously; we gave our best; we didn’t take them lightly,” Ajayi asserted.
Reaffirming their preparation and dedication, he stressed the team’s seriousness in facing Lesotho and their commitment to learning and improving from the experience.
“We prepared for the game as we prepare for every game. I think we’re just unfortunate not to take a few chances, but we’ll learn from this and we’ll definitely come back stronger in the next game,” he added.
Interestingly, Lesotho coach Leslie Notsi has revealed that they were able to get a draw against Nigeria because they studied the Super Eagles very well before the game.
“We did not give them respect. We said no ‘they are the same human beings like us, let’s go there for enjoyment,” Notsi said at the post-match presser.
“But the enjoyment we are talking about is not to just go and waste time. But the self-belief should be there, and they should express themselves in the areas that they are good at.
“We followed the team, we saw the video clips, and we saw areas that we could capitalise on.
“There is a lot that we have learned from this match, so we have to improve on that moving forward.”
Meanwhile, normalcy has returned into the Warriors camp after players were paid their camping allowances and appearance fees, allowing them to return to training ahead of their qualifier against Nigeria.
Players had on Thursday downed tools and refused to go to a scheduled training session in protest over unpaid daily allowances and appearance fees.
But the standoff has since been resolved after the ZIFA Normalisation Committee (NC) transferred money into the players’ bank accounts on Thursday night.
Zimbabwe will be looking to get their campaign off the ground with a win over the Super Eagles after they were held to a goalless draw by minnows Rwanda in their opening group match at the Huye Stadium on Wednesday, with Nigeria also looking for their first victory of the campaign following a surprise 1-1 home draw against Lesotho on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the ever-bungling Zifa Normalisation Committee have made an unprecedented move by blocking the traveling journalists from covering today’s Warriors’ training session.
ZIFA are angry with the media for reporting of Thursday’s training boycott.
However, Manager Jose Peseiro has criticised Fifa over the 2026 World Cup qualifiers scheduling, which would see the Super Eagles complete their November internationals a day after South Africa’s opening game in Group C against Benin.
On paper, Bafana Bafana are Nigeria’s biggest rivals of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers and Peseiro is of the opinion that the South Africans have been handed an advantage by FIFA’s imbalanced fixtures list.
Speaking at the post-match press conference, the Portuguese football tactician said: “We didn’t prepare well, even the players didn’t rest well because some players came on Monday, others on Tuesday.
“We could not train with intensity in that moment. Yesterday we trained but not with intensity because we must play today. For that I ask why the match was scheduled for Thursday.
“Next three days my team is going to play Zimbabwe. Why should South Africa play tomorrow, we played today. Why? I don’t know.
“Our team is the best in the group, we drew but I think we will win the next match but our players must make sacrifices.
“They fought today. The ball didn’t go in, bad luck for us. We are going to give a response against Zimbabwe even if we don’t rest well.”
Prior to the kickoff of the Lesotho encounter, a member of the team that failed to book the Qatar ticket, Omeruo has charged his colleagues to use the disappointment of missing Qatar 2022 to fuel their ambition to qualify for the next edition.
“Most of us in the team still remember how painful it was not to be part of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar,” the Kasimpasa defender told ESPN. “The memory lingers but then, that is gone. This is a fresh opportunity, and we all want to be at the next one.
“This is a serious matter for us. We are working hard to do what we have to do to get to the next World Cup. We’ve played Lesotho and Zimbabwe in the past.
“The important thing is to stick to our game plan and take the game very seriously because we have to win both games.”
The result of Thursday match however showed that his warning was not heeded.
How well the Super Eagles respond in tomorrow’s showdown against Zimbabwe remains to be seen.