Nigeria became the talk of the West African Football Union (Wafu) Cup of Nations first round after they were stunned 2-1 by Togo in their opening fixture
It was the Super Eagles’ second defeat to Togo inside seven days following a 4-1 defeat by the Sparrow Hawks in an African Nations Championship (Chan) qualifier.
After Togo stamped their dominance over Nigeria, who will now play in the Plate quarter-final, a witch-hunt appears to have been sparked in the Super Eagles camp, with striker Mfon Sunday Udoh becoming an easy a scapegoat.
Coming on as a 63rd-minute substitute in, Udoh became the fall guy and was guilty of missing two clear-cut scoring opportunities.
A red card in the dying stages of the match sealed a bad day in the office for the Akwa United forward and in the process invited some criticism from Nigeria coach Imama Amapakabo.
“I told Udoh before the game that he was going to win it for us, so it was a deliberate tactical change to bring him on,” Amapakabo told ESPN.
“My job as a coach is to make a team that will create chances, but it still rests on the player to convert that chance with the tactical approach of the team.
“He (Udoh) had two chances he should have buried; unfortunately he did not. He is one of the highest goal scorers in the league in Nigeria, but he had a bad day.”
The attention on Udoh appears to have taken the limelight off defender Olisa Harold Ndah, who turned the ball into his own net to gift Togo the winning goal.
Even striker Ibrahim Sunusi, who did not come to the party in that match, having arrived at the tournament expected to be one of the standout performers, seems to have escaped criticism.
This places Nigeria up for further intense scrutiny when they take on Cape Verde in the Plate quarter-final on Saturday.
However, it is Saturday’s hugely-anticipated quarter-final showdown between Togo and Ivory Coast at the Stade Lat Dior that would arguably be the biggest match of this stage.
Togo go into this match much-fancied after booting out Nigeria, while the Ivorians are also highly-regarded for their exploits against Cape Verde.
After smashing Cape Verde 4-1 to mark this tournament’s highest victory margin so far, the Elephants have emerged as title favourites.
Ivory Coast forwards Laurent Magbi and Aboubacar Doumbia have established themselves as players to watch out for going into the last eight after they each grabbed a brace in the demolition of Cape Verde.
Kossi Koudagba, who grabbed Togo’s opening goal in the win over Nigeria, could, however, return for the quarter-final to haunt the Elephants.
Hosts Senegal are also no pushovers as they prepare to play Benin on Thursday.
The Teranga Lions eased past Guinea-Bissau in the first round while Benin laboured and needed an injury-time winner to get past Guinea.
Senegal forward Assane Mbodji has so far lived up to his pre-tournament hype and is expected to carry on with his fine form on Thursday, together with Djibril Gueye, who grabbed their first goal in the First Round.
But they face a Benin side that however showed character on Tuesday by fighting right to the death where Jerome Bonou’s injury-time winner helped them see off Guinea.
Injured Benin striker Salim Fadel Bawa will miss Thursday’s encounter and Gaston Houngbedji is sure to start after he justified being thrown in against Guinea to replace the former by netting the Squirrels’ opener.
Guinea will look to salvage some pride when they clash with Guinea-Bissau in a Plate quarter-final.
Defending champions Ghana are up against Burkina Faso on Friday in a quarter-final clash of teams that were not-so-convincing in the first round.
After Ghana’s slender 1-0 win over the Gambia and Burkina Faso’s victory over Mauritania via a penalty shootout following a 1-1 regulation time draw, it is yet to be seen what the two sides will bring to the quarters.
On the other hand, Mauritania and Gambia meet in the Plate quarter-finals.
Sierra Leone face Mali in the last quarter-final match on Sunday.
Mali go into this match as favourites on paper after a convincing 3-1 first-round victory over Niger.
Moussa Kone and Ibourahima Sidibe have shone brightly for Mali so far and could prove to be a handful for Sierra Leone, who however have Suffian Kalokoh and Mark Karlay as their dangermen.
The Leone Stars edged Liberia 1-0 in the previous round in a match played over two days due to a power outage at the Stade Lat Dior.
Liberia and Niger will fight out in the Plate quarter-finals.