Finidi George’s Early Positivity Of His Interim Spell In Charge Of The Nigeria Super Eagles Come To A Swift End After Defeat Against Mali.

Super Eagles legend Finidi George’s chances of landing the Nigeria senior men national team manager’s job on a permanent basis suffers a huge blow following a 2-0 defeat against Mali in Marrakesh, Morocco on Tuesday night.

Just four days after the Super Eagles bounced back from last month’s agonising 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) final 2-1 defeat to host country Ivory Coast under Jose Peseiro, with a morale-boosting 2-1 victory over fierce rivals Ghana Black Stars in the so-called ‘Jollof Derby’ on Friday, courtesy of goals from Rangers striker Cyriel Dessers and Atalanta forward Ademola Lookman, while Crystal Palace striker Jordan Ayew scored a late consolatory goal for the Ghanaians in that encounter.

The Super Eagles who flattered to deceive, failed to build on that momentum win against 10-man Ghana which was a reality check ahead of the crucial 2026 World Cup qualifiers against South Africa and Benin in June.

The game against Mali, was the 12th meeting between both teams. Nigeria have the head-to-head advantage, with six wins , draw three and three defeats in those games.

Coming into the game, Mali's most recent previous win over the Super Eagles was a 4-1 friendly victory way back in 1975, while Nigeria biggest victory was a 4-1 win in AFCON 2013.

Super Eagles interim boss, Finidi George rotated a little from the team that started against Ghana. Experienced centre-back Kenneth Omeruo comes in, while Wilfred Ndidi starts in midfield.

The team has been hamstrung by injuries in this international break to key stars like Victor Osimhen, William Troost-Ekong, Victor Boniface, Ola Aina, and Zaidu Sanusi. Midfielder Frank Onyeka who was also withdrawn from the squad.

Nigeria vs Mali lineups:

Nigeria (3-4-3, right to left): Nwabali (GK) — Omeruo, Awaziem, Ajayi — Osayi-Samuel, Ndidi, Onyedika, Collins — Iwobi, Iheanacho, Simon

Nigeria subs: Uzoho, Ojo, Tanimu, Lookman, Dessers, Umar, Tella, Dele-Bashiru, Onyemaechi, Yusuf.

Mali on the other hand, continued from their 2-0 win over Mauritania in their previous match on Friday, which was a real boost for Eric Chelle after their agonising AFCON quarter-final exit in Ivory Coast.

They will take a lot of confidence into their own June World Cup qualifiers against Ghana and Madagascar. 

Mali who are ranked 19 places below the Super Eagles in FIFA's latest standings, started with a (4-3-3 formation against the Super Eagles): Samassa (GK) — Traore, Kouyate, Sagnon, Guindo — Coulibaly, Samassekou, Haidara — Toure, K. Doumbia, Sinayoko.

Mali subs: Diarra, Sacko, Fofana, Maiga, M. Doumbia, Diaby, Diambou, Sylla, Dorgelles, Diabate, Niakate, Sissoko.

It was Atalanta striker El Bilal Toure who has endured an injury-plagued season in Serie A, that opened the scoring from close range in the 18th minute after Nigeria had been pressured into a dreadful error in possession following a short goal kick.

A defensive blunder from Chidozie Awaziem as he tried to play a long square pass under pressure near the edge of the Nigeria box and succeeded only in crossing the ball straight to the Mali striker. He controlled well on his chest before bundling a finish past goalkeeper Stanely Nwabali.

With around 10 minutes of the first half remaining, Moses Simon was stretchered off the pitch after spurning a glorious chance to equalise during a collision with Mali goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa 

The Nantes star had to be substituted after appearing to suffer a painful knee injury, as Cyriel Dessers replaced him and also wasted a golden opportunity to level the game at 1-1 in the second half.

The well below-par Super Eagles just could not find that elusive equaliser and paid the price late on when Kamory Domain blasted past Stanley Nwabali to seal the win 2-0 with three minutes of normal time remaining. It was another moment to forget for the experienced Kenneth Omeruo and the Nigeria defence.

The defeat leaves former Ajax and Real Betis winger Finidi George who won the 1994 AFCON and now Nigeria interim's boss concerned about his chances of earning the job on a full-time basis. 

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