Nigeria’s German tactician Gernot Rohr came out say that the Super Eagles will return to winning ways in next month’s Afcon qualifiers following just concluded double winless friendly matches. “I believe these very good friendly games will help us to return to winning ways when we play Sierra Leone next month (home and away),” asserted coach Rohr after his team had to settle for a 1:1 draw against Tunisia yesterday with a draw not to have been a forgone conclusion. Yes Nigeria could have won the match: had Iheanacho been more decisive and emphatic with his penalty kick in the first half – with Nigeria leading 1:0 at that point – there would have been daylight between both teams. But with Nigeria’s lead still slim following the Leicester City man’s failed penalty kick in 30 minutes, the Tunisians still smelt a route back to the match and followed the path to their equaliser with Omeruo losing his man and Okoye well beaten by Tunisia’s Dragger in 44 minutes with the Super Eagles left counting the cost. 1:1 at that point, 1:1 it stayed. Singling out Iheanacho and Omeruo is not meant to scapegoat them, far from him. In fact both players put in decent shifts at both ends of the pitch to put Nigeria ahead and to keep Tunisia at bay. Iheanacho’s trickery, swivel, swagger and sublime shot from 12 yards gave Nigeria the lead while Omeruo’s tackles, interceptions and markings helped to at least secure the draw.
But was the draw good enough? I guess it depends on who you speak to. Some fans are just happy to have seen quite of number of new faces given the opportunity to strut their stuff in Super Eagles colours and if truth be told, most – if not all – of them did not disappoint. Of all the players that played against Tunisia (and Algeria), it is hard to find any of them that did not play with his heart on his sleeves. They all played with passion, patriotism, purpose and positivity which are the minimum requirements I would demand from any player called to serve his fatherland. Ability-wise, yes, some are more gifted than others but that is normal. When it comes to work rate, Alex Iwobi king. I call him the Energizer-Bunny-In-Super-Eagles- Colours. Iwobi works his socks off and he is such an asset to this Super Eagles side. But in truth, none of the players I saw failed to pull his weight so, in that regards, they all deserve a pat on the back for ‘work rate’. Although the overarching aim of friendlies is not necessarily to win matches, but winning them is not a bad idea, or is it? What winning friendly matches do to the morale of players, coaches, football administrators, fans and stakeholders cannot be overemphasised. So, I think there will be slight disappointment in some corners that Nigeria only managed to scrape out 1 meagre point out of the 6 nominally on offer in the just concluded friendlies against Algeria and Tunisia. But that aside, the overarching meanings that can be read to the outcome of these matches is a positive one as far as I am concerned WHAT HAVE I LEARNT? The Super Eagles continue to be a side that will make things difficult for teams regardless of the calibre of the opposition. Win, draw or lose, teams can always expect a rough ride against Nigeria. Tunisia played well, Algeria even better but each can only score 1 goal against Nigeria which speaks to how resolute, determined, unyielding, compact and obstinate that Rohr’s Eagles are. With Balogun and Akpoguma driving the ball up the pitch (and Omeruo but with less success), we are seeing a renewed interpretation of the CB role sure to harm opposition teams in games to come. In fact, when you see players like Iheanacho, Iwobi, Ajayi and even Musa interpret their roles, you can’t help but notice a thinking that has gone into this in the background that, though they did not full manifest in this game, would become more apparent in subsequent games.
In short, I think our players are becoming more dynamic but you need to look deeper to source this out. And, I don’t know about other fans but most of the (regular) players I saw – across the 2 matches – appear to have improved elements of their games even though the likes of Ekong and Onuachu could have done that bit better. Sadly, I haven’t seen enough to suggest to me at this point that the Super Eagles of Nigeria are “world beaters”. This team is still work-in-progress but unfortunately for Rohr, time is running out. But for me, what endears me most to this exciting collection of indigenous and foreign born players is that ‘H’ word: HUNGER. These boys are hungry, hungry for success. You can see in them the desire to do themselves, their coaches, their families and their country proud. And this element provides a lift in their game which even makes it hard for me to criticise someone like Onuachu who obviously worked his socks off. NEXT STEPS Next stop now is back to back afcon qualifiers in November against Sierra Leone in November where a lot of what has been experimented in these 2 matches should (hopefully) come into fruition. Areas of concerns remain but what thing is undeniable, this Super Eagles outfit is not regressing. If anything, they have shown promise that they can only get better. And with players who were unavailable for these matches expected to make future appearances, the possibilities remain tantalising indeed.
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