A Sports Writer NURUDEEN OBALOLA, who was in Uyo to cover Nigeria’s 3-1 World Cup qualifier against Algeria on Saturday, presents his seven key observations from the match.
This has become a topical issue. Do you agree with his opinion?
1. Rohr Is Not Afraid To Make Necessary Changes
Gernot Rohr showed on Saturday that he could make tough calls when he has to change the tone of a game. The Super Eagles needed a tweak after Algeria got into the game and Rohr was not afraid to sacrifice his captain Mikel Obi for a more defensive minded midfielder in Wilfred Ndidi.
Ndidi’s introduction slowed down Algeria’s momentum and Nigeria’s counter-attacks became more dangerous.
Rohr completed the masterstroke by bringing on the pacy Ahmed Musa for the struggling Alex Iwobi and the Leicester man’s speed caused panic in the tiring Algeria defence and led to Nigeria’s third goal.
2. Super Eagles Are Way Too Nice
If there is one lesson Nigerian teams must learn from the North Africans, it is how to kill a game off when they are ahead. At 2-0 on Saturday, the Super Eagles were still playing open football and giving Algeria chances. The Nigerians were still being good sportsmen who were not disrupinting the game’s flow. They nearly paid for this ‘Mr. Nice’ attitude.
If the reverse was the case and the Algerians were 2-0 up, everyone at the stadium would have been frustrated by the North Africans’ antics.
Algeria would have used every opportunity to go down and stay down, they would feign injuries, take forever for freekicks, throw-ins, goalkicks and provoke the Nigerians and frustrate the referee by all means possible.
While it is great to be a good sportsman, a team sometimes needs to use the dark arts to keep its advantage.
3. Victor Moses Is Key To Eagles’ Success
Victor Moses translated his Chelsea form to the national team on Saturday and it was a beauty to behold. He started on the right of Nigeria’s attack and then switched to the left, but the effect was the same: Moses ran the full-backs ragged.
The Algerian defence could not cope with the Chelsea wide man’s direct running and could not catch up with him; whenever they did, they just fouled him.
By full-time and after such a showing which brought two goals, there was no player contesting the man-of-the-match award with Moses.
Although there are suspicions that Moses tends to pick the international games he wants to play in, he has shown that he is one of the Super Eagles’ most important players, especially after that absolutely fantastic performance.
4. Iheanacho Not Ideal As No.9 For Nigeria
It might be a tad unfair to draw a conclusion after just one match, but Kelechi Iheanacho looked lost for most of the match against Algeria as the Nigeria centre forward.
The 20-year-old Manchester City wunderkind has often thrived for the Super Eagles playing just off the main striker. He scored in each of his four Nigeria games before Saturday playing off either Odion Ighalo or Brown Ideye. But as the striker on Saturday, Iheanacho struggled to hold the ball up and get in scoring positions at key moments. There was no point in the match where Iheanacho looked like scoring and he would have been frustrated, given his immense abilities to create and get on the end of chances from the No.10 position.
Iheanacho has done quite well at No.9 for Manchester City, but for Nigeria, who play in a different way, he might not thrive in the position.
5. Eagles Defence Still Needs An Upgrade
This is one of the most obvious takeaways from Saturday’s match. Even head coach Gernot Rohr admitted after the match that his defence needs a lot of work. For a team that was so dominant in taking a 2-0 lead, the Nigeria defence was much too easily rattled when Algeria got a foothold in the game.
While Elderson Echiejile did a decent job in mostly curtailing Riyad Mahrez, the centre-backs Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong sometimes stood off the Algerian attackers, gave away too many chances and left goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi exposed. The defence has to be stronger because there will be games when the team needs a clean sheet to get victory.
6. Perfect Host City Uyo Should Host Cameroon, Zambia
The assertion that the Super Eagles must win all their home matches to almost guarantee qualification still stands. And Uyo seems to be the venue to complete that mission.
With a four-point lead over their nearest rivals Cameroon, victory at home over the Indomitable Lions next year would open up a seven-point gap for the Super Eagles over their neighbours and fierce rivals. A win would also at least maintain the five-point lead over Algeria.
Uyo fans gave the Super Eagles a huge lift with their passion and support for the team. There were already long lines at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium from around 1pm, a full four hours before the match. By kick-off the stadium was almost full and there were still lines of fans outside waiting to cheer the Eagles.
The team obviously fed off the energy from the adoring fans – who cheered every move – and rewarded them with an impressive win.
Right now, there is no reason to take the Eagles away from Uyo. Great crowd, near-perfect pitch; quiet, organised city.
7. Super Eagles Attack Is Scary
Algeria should have been worried when they saw the Nigeria line-up and there were no places for Odion Ighalo, Brown Ideye and Ahmed Musa. These are three superstars who would walk into most national teams in Africa. Then there was Moses Simon.
Also, in spite of Kelechi Iheanacho’s struggles and Alex Iwobi’s below-par showing, the Eagles still scored three goals and could have scored more.
In Victor Moses and all the aforementioned names, plus the injured Isaac Success, Gernot Rohr has enough firepower to play any kind of combination he wants in the attack.
Gone are the days of relying on journeymen like Michael Uchebo, Michael Babatunde, Uche Nwofor, Sylvester Igboun and the like.