The Super Eagles tamed the hostile Kumasi crowd tonight by ensuring the Black Stars were forced to a 0:0 draw despite the hosts’ desperation to bag at least 1 goal. It wasn’t a vintage Super Eagles performance by a country mile but, if truth be told, they came out of the lions den with a result that puts them firmly on the front foot in Abuja in 4 days time. I take this opportunity to submit my player ratings: – Francis Uzoho (6.5/10) was up to the task for the times he was tested. Punching away a bullet of a long range shot and calmly palming to his near post were just but few highlights of his all round impressive performance tonight. His distribution was also commendable but crucially he looked assured and well composed. I have said it severally that playing in a more mainstream league doesn’t make Okoye better than Uzoho. In truth, Uzoho looked the part tonight and conducted himself as one would expect of a national team goalkeeper of respectable quality. – Ola Aina (6.5/10) took sometime to get going but once in the groove, he was near-unplayable. He performed his defensive duties competently and tried to instigate attacking initiatives. He seemed more than a match for whatever the Ghanaians threw at him. Some few but truly memorable Super Eagles moments of tonight came from Aina. It is safe to say that he has made that right fullback shirt his own. – William Troost-Ekong (6/10) has Balogun to thank for saving his bacon on a number of occasions tonight. The plus side to this is that the chemistry between the Oyinbo Wall was as solid as ever in this game. It was like they hadn’t been separated all this while as both complemented each other. Ekong also played with assurance which helped reduce the Ghanaians to speculative efforts at times. He could have played better but what can be better than being part of a defensive apparatus that kept a clean sheet in this hostile territory? – Leon Balogun (7.5/10) gets a high mark for several facets of his game tonight. His recovery rate was excellent, his last ditch sliding tackles were of supreme quality, his level of concentration was faultless and he dispatched his overall defensive duties with cast iron efficiency. Most eye-catching was when he bailed out the likes of Zaidu and Ekong with Ghanaian strikers bearing down on Uzoho: simply sublime stuff from Balogun. It is not a stretch to suggest that Nigeria fans owe a debt of gratitude to Balogun for this game ending 0:0 tonight. He also tried to drive the ball forward with mixed effect. – Zaidu Sanusi (6/10) could have bagged himself an assist had Osimhen been better placed to control and finish off one of his crosses. The Porto man’s chemistry with Simon was acceptable. His willingness to join attack showed ambition but left the backline a bit wafer thin at times.
Zaidu put himself about and tried to help Nigeria gain a foothold in this game. He was by no means a passanger and his willingness to get stuck in things has to be commended. – Innocent Bonke (5.5/10) in the views of many didn’t do enough to stabilise Nigeria’s midfield. It could be argued that he didn’t make his presence felt and perhaps this stage was too big for him. I don’t buy any of these arguments one bit. Bonke in my view dropped very deep to support the defence and he did make some clearances and interceptions which are his primary subroutines. With the Ghanaians employing long balls from deep, Bonke had to move in the direction of the ball to provide sheild and cover where required. But he didn’t do much with the ball and didn’t generate eye catching meaningful attacking initiatives for his team. – Joe Aribo (6.5/10) toiled all night long and hard to try to interpret Eguavoen’s philosophy of building from deep and playing the ball on grass rather that just hoofing it in the air but met meagre success. He put himself about a lot and worked his socks off but ultimately his end product wasn’t always up to scratch as evident in an effort he balooned to the heavens inside the 18 yard box. Aribo tried to combine with Chukwueze, Osimhen and Simon on occasions but their passes either broke down or they were just curtailed by the Ghanaians. For effort, endeavour and persistence, Aribo can’t be faulted. But the hostile terrain, limited support from Iheanacho and unfamiliar midfield partner didn’t help Aribo’s course much.
– Kelechi Iheanacho’s (4.5/10) Jekyll and Hyde national team career continues. What we saw today was Mr Iheanacho-Hyde as he was truly awful on occasions. He was not fluid enough to support Aribo, he seemed to fall down at the slightest tackle, he was largely anonymous, his passes lacked imagination, he didn’t seem to put himself about and he failed to bring anything close to his ‘A’ game to the fore. Funnily, I actually understand why he lasted 90 minutes. Iheanacho is one of those players who can go anonymous for long spells in a game only to come alive when least expected with a game-changing moment. One such moment did happen tonight but sadly it went painfully against Nigeria as the foul that followed Iheanacho’s press rubbed his team of a life saving penalty kick deep in the second half following VAR review ! – Moses Simon (5.5/10) appears to be slipping back into old habits of trying to take on defenders needlessly when an alternative approach may have served him better. Having been located with a glorious through pass inside the 18 yard box, there is an argument to be made that perhaps a player of his calibre ought to have scored rather than the save he drew from the Ghana goalkeeper. Saying Moses was sub par tonight might sound harsh but more was expected of him than he delivered. Interestingly, the Ghanaians didn’t have to overly gang up on him before neutralising his threats. But, in fairness, Moses Simon’s work off the ball helped the team to maintain its shape and (as usual) he pulled his weight defensively. – Samuel Chukwueze (5.5/10) was alert to provide extra body in midfield which might suggest why the Ghanaians elected to bypass Nigeria’s midfield with long balls on occasions. It is really hard to recall off hand several deadly crosses that Chukwueze delivered or when he got into promising positions. But as a team effort, he tried his best. What was expected of him in the way of peppering Ghanaian backline with sweeping leg movements and dangerous runs were near non-existent. But Chukwueze, for all intent and purposes, was not just a passanger tonight. – Victor Osimhen (5.5/10) had a frustrating night as he could not latch on to the needed wavelength with his team mates but this wasn’t for the want of trying. He got into a number of physical struggles that only left him battered and bruised but it was reassuring every time his picked himself up, dusted himself and simply continued playing. Long balls were aimed at Osimhen but the Ghanaians were close enough to ensure he didn’t do anything meaningful with these while his team mates weren’t close enough to ward off the attention he was receiving. With Nigeria soaking much pressure, Osimhen even had to track back to chip in with defensive duties. The sort of service he needed were not forthcoming and he struggled to find his place in the formation and approach laid out by Eguavoen.
– Augustine Eguavoen (5/10) persisted with the same 4-4-2 Formation he used in the Afcon but this time, it morphed into 4-3-3 for long periods in the game with Simon, Osimhen and Iheanacho staying up front with Chukwueze dropping deep to support the midfield Aribo and Bonke. The beautiful brand of football he was brought in to produce was non-existent and he can be thankful that lack of quality in Ghana’s final third spared Super Eagles blushes. His Super Eagles were reactive rather than proactive and they often struggled to string passes together. They were not imaginative and yet again his midfield looks inadequate. Eguavoen did not do anything fresh or refreshing. But, he was bold to introduce Lookman and Bassey both of whom didn’t look too much out of sorts. As his first away encounter in a hostile territory in this tenure as interim coach, perhaps one should be mild in criticising him. After all, the Super Eagles created some (few) neat chances, they did contain Ghana for long periods, they made Ghana run out of ideas and made their fans go home largely disappointed. The Super Eagles pressing football almost yielded a penalty and – most impressively – Nigeria started anticipating and intercepting Ghana’s supply of passes later on with much success. But on this showing Eguavoen still has a long way to go to convince Nigeria fans of his tactical mastery. Emmanuel Dennis (5.5/10) knew he had to help Nigeria see out the game so he just didn’t stay up front. He was deligent and busy across the park. Frank Onyeka’s (5.5/10) fancy foot flim flammery inside the 18 yard box sent 2 Ghanaians on a fishing expedition. Shame his follow on cross failed to find a team mate. Overall, he brought a measure of calmness to the midfield. Peter Etebo’s (6/10) pressing game and hawk-like approach in the midfield kept the Ghanaians on their toes. He made his presence and experience felt for the period he was on the pitch. Calvin Bassey (5.5/10) made a number of successful 1 on 1 interceptions that proved he was very ready to roll his sleeves. He came on when Ghana tried to renew pilling on the pressure and he didn’t flinch. Ademola Lookman (5/10) will definitely have the opportunity to express himself better for longer in Super Eagles colours. But tonight he kept it low key and helped the team maintain its shape to see out the encounter.