The Super Eagles produced what I choose to call disposable football entertainment in their bland but effective 2:0 victory against Liberia in this weekend’s world cup qualifiers in Tangier, Morocco. They needed to get the job done and this they achieved in the rather rudimentary manner that I have recently come to expect from Rohr’s Eagles with nothing exhilarating to remember the match for, other than the result. Two penalty kicks that were expertly converted in the 15th and 90th minutes by Osimhen and Musa respectively helped to nail the Liberians to the wall. Iheanacho was hacked down for the first infringement whilst Osimhen was pulled down for the second, both by the goalkeeper. I use this opportunity to give me assessment of how I felt the players performed: Okoye (6/10) : his questionable technique came to the fore again when he punched a long freekick straight back to the line of fire in the first half. Fortunately no Liberian player was well positioned to profit. He also fluffed a simple long ball that seemed to go through him in the first half before getting a grip. Other than those anxious moments, Okoye had mainly routine saves to make. His distribution was okay on occasions and his starting position looked promising. He will have sterner tests on Tuesday against Cape Verde. Awaziem (8/10) [My Man of The Match] : although his long balls were a bit hit and miss, they were nonetheless purposeful and helped Nigeria transition from defence to attack. Awaziem showed a high work rate as he covered a lot of grounds with desire and determination. His audacious long range shot from just after the centre circle almost caught the goalkeeper out and helped create excitement in an otherwise dull Super Eagles display. He carried out his defensive duties to an acceptable level with neat markings and timely tackles. Ekong (6/10) : his effort to head the ball away from danger almost proved pyrrhic as his colleagues had to scramble to prevent Nigeria conceding a goal. For an English Premier League player, Ekong’s all round game does not always exude the poise and polish expected. That said, he almost doubled Nigeria’s lead with a powerful header off a corner kick in the second half. Although he didn’t look very comfortable when under pressure, Ekong still carried out his defensive duties well, by and large. Balogun (6.5/10) : his infraction was punished with a freekick in a dangerous area in the first half (similar to where Mahrez scored in the 2019 Afcon). Balogun was dangerously dispossessed in one of his now signature-forward-runs in Liberia’s half that led to the opponents driving at Nigeria. With the Super Eagles a man short at the back, another better team – after dispossessing Balogun – might have punished Nigeria. Defensively, Balogun was near-solid but looked rattled when placed under pressure. He helped double up on opponents and looked assured overall. Simon (5/10) : he would win the ball robustly and convincingly only to ruin it with shambolic crosses and diabolic deliveries. By placing himself very high up the pitch, Simon helped peg the Liberians back. His ability to time his tackles, man-Mark and win back possession helped foil Liberia’s attacking initiatives from the source. Just like Iwobi, one can never really question Simon’s commitment and passion but he will need to add end product to these for him to be more appreciated by fans. More importantly, the Super Eagles will need wingers/wingbacks with pristine deliveries in subsequent games and Moses Simon consistently fails to deliver. Collins (5.5/10) : a standout moment was when Collins admirably tried to wriggle around 3 defenders before being hacked down. He showed great attacking intent in this match which was almost rewarded by a disallowed goal after he expertly latched on to a through pass before his neat finish was ruled out for marginal offside. His department was peppered by the Liberians with their number 11 beating him for pace on one occasion. His colleagues had to help him double up on Liberian attackers on occasions. Overall an acceptable performance from Collins even though aspects of his game were subpar today. Ndidi (5.5/10) : to be honest, I didn’t see much of Ndidi today. I did see him make some interceptions up front and tried to release Iheanacho with some half-baked passes. Overall, he helped to cage the Liberians by shoring up the midfield and in making his presence felt by shielding the back with his movements and helping to double up against the Liberians in the middle.
these for him to be more appreciated by fans. More importantly, the Super Eagles will need wingers/wingbacks with pristine deliveries in subsequent games and Moses Simon consistently fails to deliver. Aribo (5/10) : you get the sense that Aribo’s role on the pitch naturally comes with vision, ingenuity and invention all which would translate to deadly, telling and magical long passes and deft deliveries. But Aribo displayed none of these today. In a position that offers so much, Aribo delivered so little. That said, he supported his defenders in doubling up to strangle the Liberians’ attacking initiatives. He did complete a hat-full of passes successfully but these were more run-of-the-mill passes. His positional discipline was commendable but he didn’t take up promising positions that could cause the opposition some harm. Iwobi (6/10): back in the team, the Everton man was his ubiquitous self for Nigeria, popping up everywhere on the pitch to perform his attacking and defensive responsibilities with heart. He exchanged a one-two pass with Iheanacho that rattled the Liberians. Before that he was helping the defenders double up on Liberian attackers at the other end. Iwobi’s passes were often short and sweet but not always defence splitting (which was required). In fact, he passed the ball back at times instead of launching it up the pitch. By his own standards, Iwobi seemed slightly subdued today before being replaced by Ejuke in the second half. Iheanacho (7/10) : his hold-up play and delicious through ball to Collins (whose goal was disallowed) was brilliant. He showed a somewhat decent level of communication with his strike partner Osimhen with nice passes that released the Napoli man on occasions. Iheanacho’s one-two pass with Iwobi was noteworthy as it was near-expertly executed. Also noteworthy is that Iheanacho came deeper in the second half to try to orchestrate things from deep: this increased his workrate and showed intent. Oh! Lest I forgot, his purposeful run was illegally halted by the goalkeeper leading to the penalty for Nigeria’s first goal. Osimhen (7/10): clearly, the Liberians set out to frustrate Osimhen as Nigeria’s most high profile player and the Super Eagles’ main danger man. Hence he was tripled up on and given rough treatment throughout today. But, Osimhen still found ways to get into dangerous areas where he eventually won the penalty that Musa converted for Nigeria’s second goal. He made decent runs and tried to make things out of the deliveries from Iheanacho and others. Through on goal, he blasted sky high in the first half with the goalkeeper at his mercy – though a tough chance from a tight angle, Osimhen should be more clinical for Nigeria. Osimhen sent the goalkeeper on a wild goose chase for Nigeria’s first penalty goal. _Substitute_ Ejuke (5/10) : having been introduced in 62 minutes for Iwobi, Ejuke was dispossessed twice and overcooked a cross that sailed harmlessly wide within a short space. His impact was not felt at all and he added no urgency to the Super Eagles attacking initiatives. He did try to dribble his way into the game but his moves were expertly anticipated and finely curtailed by the Liberians. That said, Ejuke did have a hand in Nigeria’s second goal as it was his through ball that Osimhen attempted to connect with before being felled in the penalty box. Also, as he grew into the game, Ejuke became wise and elected to execute simple passes rather than attempt aimless dribbles. Musa (6/10): although he was brought in presumably to see out time as Nigeria were coasting to victory, Musa beat the goalkeeper hook, line and sinker by sending him the opposite direction for his penalty kick. Though he spent less than 10 minutes on the pitch, Musa still slotted in well to the team’s shape and gave the Liberian defenders something new to worry about.
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