Nigeria's Super Eagles suffered a massive setback in their quest to play at next year's World Cup following Sunday's draw with rivals Tunisia. Goal.com's Samm Audu looks at what has befallen a nation that will now be counting on other teams to fly them to South Africa 2010...
Former Nigeria international goalkeeper Ike Shorunmu wept like a baby at the end of Sunday's World Cup qualifier between the Super Eagles and their Tunisian counterparts.
The reason for his tears? The 2-2 draw at the Abuja National Stadium has, without doubt, compromised the chances of Nigeria making it to next year's World Cup in South Africa.
The expectation of a Nigerian victory had been so high that the 'plastic' city of Abuja, with its beautiful layouts and smooth, expansive roads, showed an unusual display of passion leading up to the must-win game, from flag-carrying cars to the high noise level around the match venue.
The game itself was a confrontation between two coaches - Shuaibu Amodu of Nigeria in the blue corner and Humberto Coelho of Tunisia in the red corner. Coelho clearly won the bout by a knockout.
The Carthage Eagles defended and attacked in numbers, while Nigeria often threatened when they attacked the North Africans, but were very vulnerable on the counter-attack. There was simply no ball-winning player in the midfield, with John Mikel Obi and Seyi Olofinjana running into each other, more often than not.
A top foreign coach friend of mine rang me after just five minutes into the match and said: "The Nigerian tactics are a big zero. If my team play like this, we are dead!"
For Tunisia's first equaliser, Sliti Nabil had all the space in the world before he pulled the trigger. This is the first time, in a very long time, that Vincent Enyeama had been beaten from such a distance.
One would then have thought that after Eneramo's superb strike had brought the Super Eagles back from the dead, Nigeria would have been able to now hold on to the lead, even if they had to play negative football as there was only about two minutes to spare.
But, on the day perennial rivals Ghana were booking their flight to the World Cup, Nigerians were being turned into emergency mathematicians, who will now be working overtime with countless permutations as to how the Super Eagles can also qualify for the competition.
That was the case when Angola forced us to a draw in Kano four years ago, with the same 33-year-old South African school teacher, Daniel Bennet, as referee.
In the end, it had to come down to the final games - Nigeria vs Zimbabwe and Rwanda vs Angola. A draw between Rwanda and Angola would have handed Nigeria the ticket to the 2006 World Cup. But it was not to be as Angola won 1-0 to qualify for their first-ever World Cup.
And the Black Mambas of Mozambique beat Kenya to keep alive their Nations Cup hopes, meaning they still have something to play for right to the final game of the series.
Most Nigerians are now placing their hope on a resolute Mozambique team at least holding Tunisia to a draw in Maputo on November 14, while the Super Eagles will travel to Nairobi and must beat the Harambee Stars of Kenya on the same day.
But first, Nigeria must beat the Mozambicans in Abuja next month, for such a permutation to work in the Super Eagles favour.
And, in both hoped-for victories against Mozambique and Kenya, Nigeria have to not only win, but win well to improve their goal difference.
Tunisia enjoy a better goal difference as things stands - they have scored six goals and let in three goals, while Nigeria have netted five times and conceded two goals. Both teams have a +3 goal difference, but Tunisia have scored more goals than Nigeria and their head-to-head record is also superior, as they scored two goals away in Nigeria.
Once again, it seems that the goalless draw by Nigeria in Maputo in March has come back to haunt the Super Eagles.
Samm Audu, Goal.com