After the upset loss Nigeria suffered against South Africa in the first game of 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the Nigerian Football Federation had to call crisis meetings to figure out what actions to take in response. Fortunately, Nigeria has a long hiatus to sort things out, as their next match is a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Cameroon on August 28th.
However, another reason behind the failure of Nigeria against South Africa was the litany of injuries they had to deal with. For example, they were without defender Leon Balogun, who was injured in the final match of the Bundesliga season with Mainz 05 back in late May. Balogun is known for being an intelligent defender, as well as having the stamina to execute good defense through the entirety of the match. Because he wasn’t on the pitch, Nigeria couldn’t muster the defense to stop either of South Africa’s two goals in the match.
Of course, Nigeria was also without their captain, John Obi Mikel. Mikel is in the final phases of rehabilitation from a surgery needed to resolve a groin injury. He is known for dominating the midfield position, being a key cog in controlling the tempo of the Nigerian offense. While he is most valuable for his stellar passing ability, Mikel has also scored goals every now and then when the opportunity arises. After the South Africa match, Mikel responded to allegations that he could’ve changed the result of the game: “Saying my absence cost the team is an insult to the talented players we have in the team. It could have happened even if I played, you never can tell. The players had a bad day and we will definitely bounce back with or without me.” Nigeria hopes Balogun and Mikel, along with other injured Nigerians such as Victor Moses and Vincent Enyeama, will recover by the time of the next match.