Siasia, a one-time under-20 and Olympic coach for Nigeria, has the hard task of rebuilding the continent’s one-time juggernaut team after poor play and corruption allegations surrounded the Super Eagles trip to South Africa.
After Wednesday’s game, Siasia acknowledged he still had a long way to go.
“I didn’t say it was going to be easy,” Siasia said.
Marseille’s Taye Taiwo put the hosts ahead with a penalty in the 16th minute before Ekitho Ehiosun scored the second goal from a corner kick shortly before the halftime whistle. The Super Eagles players linked up well and appeared to work well as a team in Siasia’s first outing.
The sole bright moment for Sierra Leone came when Mohammed Kalia scored a consolation goal in the 89th minute, breaking away from Nigerian defenders to slip the ball by goal keeper Dele Aiyenugba. Kalia continued his run up to the stands of Nigerian fans, smiling with his arms out.
Nigeria once dominated football in Africa, making the second round of the World Cup in 1994 and 1998, as well as winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994.
However, the team has seen a long slide in recent years. The Super Eagles were knocked out of the World Cup last year after losing two of its first-round matches and scraping a 2-2 draw with South Korea.
On Wednesday, the team passed better than it had in games last year, with quick footwork wearing down the Leone Stars. However, players noticeably slowed toward the end of the match, allowing Kalia’s late goal.
Corruption also continues to hinder Nigeria’s football efforts. Wednesday’s game took place at Lagos state’s Teslim Balogun Stadium. The former National Stadium, just across a busy street, is a cracked and crumbling ghost of its former glory.
The stadium’s downfall has been blamed on the misuse of maintenance funds, a common occurrence in a country analysts routinely describe as one of the world’s most corrupt.
After the World Cup, investigators accused former federation president Sani Lulu, ex-vice president Amanze Ugbulam, former technical committee member Taiwo Ogunjobi and ex-general secretary Bolaji Ojo-Oba of embezzling more than $6 million in tournament funding. Meanwhile, Amos Adamu, a former Nigerian government sports minister, received a three-year ban from FIFA after allegedly demanding bribes to influence his vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.
But fans seemed to shrug off the allegations Wednesday night in a nation where billions of dollars in oil revenues have been spent without clear explanation in recent months without a major outcry.
“As much as we do not condone or accept corruption, this is an allegation,” said Rafiu Oladipo, president general of the Nigeria Football Supporters Association. “Everyone must be given an opportunity to clear his or her name.”
Siasia also sided-stepped discussing the allegations after the game.
However, fickle fans who often deride Nigeria as the “Super Chickens” appeared willing to give Siasia a chance to make a difference to the squad. Rowdy match attendees launched fireworks onto a corner of the pitch just before the end of the first half to celebrate Ehiosun’s goal and Siasia’s first match.
“We’re trying to become a new Super Eagles,” said fan Raymond Uzoma, 45.