Updated: Oct 15
Nigeria’s Super Eagles handed the bragging rights to the Desert Foxes of Algeria after going down to lame 1:0 defeat in a friendly match on the 9th of October. The result would not have gone down well with a section of the Super Eagles fans who were looking forward to a competent cabaret of excitement to justify the tsunami of hype that has trailed Nigeria-eligible players in weeks leading up to this encounter. The disappointing result (as some fans would see it; others would disagree) to one side, how – in my view – did the players perform in this rather underwhelming encounter? Here are my player ratings: Starters: Goalkeeper:
1) Maduka Okoye (6.5/10) – The Sparta Rotterdam man didn’t seem fazed in his first start for the Super Eagles, Perhaps his response could have been a tad sharper in the build up to Algeria’s goal. That aside, his camera-friendly dive to parry away a ruthless goal-bound free-kick in the first half was noteworthy. He kept diving in anticipation when some shots went off the mark which spoke to how alert he was. Okoye could not be seen barking instructions to his defenders like Uzoho however the understanding seemed to be there as he timed his movements well enough to avoid some embarrassing moments. His distribution appears to be an area that he can improve upon. All in all, Okoye looked an image of calm and seemed ready to rise up to the challenge. He would not have been disappointed in his performance even though he was not tested as much as he could have been on another day. Full-backs: 2) Tyronne Ebuehi (6.5/10) – Ebuehi did the best he could under the circumstances to release the ball and make things happen whilst been harassed constantly by a number of Algeria players. Defensively he was pretty decent with his markings as he stood his ground to prevent the Algerians from perforating his area more so as they picked his side to launch wave after wave of attacks earlier on. The former Benfica man was beaten at times on 1-on-1 scenario but his recovery rate was commendable, He did his best to force the issue for the Super Eagles up front with his incursions into Algeria’s delicate areas. His end-product in the way of crosses and passes could be better but injuries could be blamed for his mild rustiness in these area. In all, Ebuehi had a performance that hasn’t done his Super Eagles chances any harm whatsoever. He can only hope to build on this in coming months. 3) Sanusi Zaidu (7.5/10) – This is how to make an indelible first impression! The Rocket-man as he is known put up a performance worthy of his moniker as he bombed up and down the pitch with lightening speed and positive aggression that went someway in making his part of the pitch a sort of fortress. Sanusi’s communication with Kalu was A1! He latched on with blinding speed to a delicious through ball from Kalu in the first half to deliver a ground cross that could have caused problems. One fine cross to Onuachu caught the eye whilst his constant pressing up the pitch helped to keep the Algerians at bay. The Porto man has won many hearts and minds with both the offensive and defensive facets of his game today. At this rate, it is difficult to see Idowu or Collins wrestling the starting left full back shirt off this speedster. Centre-backs: 4) Leon Balogun (7.5/10) – A very dependable centre defender if ever you have seen one. Balogun lost his way for Nigeria just before the covid lockdown however he has emphatically retraced his steps and how! Time and time again, Balogun bailed out his fellow defenders in this match after errors that could have been ruthlessly exploited by the Algerians. He was as neat as ironed garment with his tackles and composed in his interceptions. At times, he took the game by the scruff of the neck by driving the ball up the pitch to try to instigate goal scoring manoeuvres. As with any defender there were times he could have done better. But on the whole, Balogun was solid today. With this sort of performance, it will be difficult to see him drop to the bench in coming matches. 5) William Troost-Ekong (6/10) – Uncharacteristically, the Watford man had a game marred by a few jittery and unconvincing moments. The veteran defender used to be one to command his area but he seemed to outsource that responsibility to his twin-wall Balogun in this match. Ekong was expected to organise his area during the corner kick that led to Algeria’s goal but it was a shock to see Nigeria go down to a routine that Gernot Rohr seems incapable of making Ekong and co, rise up (quite literally) to the occasion. Ekong was surprisingly physical in his approach to tackles which would have made Pastor Taribo West very proud. But, with such physical orientation to his play, is Ekong becoming a more polished defender? In all, just like his teammates, Ekong grew into the match as time wore on but I don’t think he has done his automatic starting 11 slot any good with such an indifferent display. Midfielders: 6) Semi Ajayi (5.5/10) – Not a lot of Super Eagles supporters will lose a sleep if Ajayi never plays as a defensive midfielder for Nigeria because he struggled to despatch the role with a unique identity. That does not necessarily means he had a poor game but just to say that he didn’t stamp his authority in that area in a way that made an appreciable impact. There were some beautiful moments though, for example, when his good movement, fancy footwork and competent pass helped to ward off pressure from surrounding Algerian players whilst helping Nigeria retain possession. Vision to pick out deadly passes from deep and help dictate play from his area seemed sorely lacking. His approach to winning the ball back was decent enough but didn’t generate any wow moments. Overall, Ajayi performed his defensive midfield role much better in the second half but he will have to add some gloss to his play to shine through in that position. 7)Frank Onyeka (5/10) – It is hard to pick out any eye catching moments from the 22 year old midfielder whose energy levels were inadequate to match the firepower of the Algerians in the first half. With Nigeria struggling to impose our will on the Algerians, we needed midfielders willing to take the battle to them but Onyeka offered no such threat. In the lead up to Algeria’s goal, the ball cannoned off Onyeka who many would have expected to throw himself about – regardless of whether the Algerians scored. He seemed not too sure of what to do. Onyeka did not impose himself on this match as he would have loved. He worked as hard as he could and gave a spirited performance but more was understandably expected. 8) Alex Iwobi (8/10) – What a player! Iwobi was ubiquitous in his play popping up everywhere in an attempt to make things happen on a night when he hard work was not rewarded with a positive result for the Super Eagles. Unlike many of his teammates, Iwobi was able to wriggle his way out of the tight gang-markings of the Algerians to still deliver delicious short range passes. His finesse long range shot went just wide whilst he won possession back for the Super Eagles in efforts aimed at instigating goal-scoring initiatives. For endeavour and all round defensive and offensive play, Iwobi remains a key player for the Super Eagles based on his performance tonight. Wingers: 9) Samuel Chukwueze (5.5/10) – Perhaps it is not such a good idea to start Chukwueze against Algerians because they know how to cage him well. A major aspect of the Algerian game plan was to curtail Nigeria from the flanks. This they do alarmingly successfully by doubling up on Chukwueze. The Villarreal man struggled to shrug off the attention from the Algerians leading to Nigeria’s attacking initiatives breaking down time and time again. Chukwueze can be commended for his persistency and perseverance in wanting to make things happen. He tried to drive into delicate areas and he learnt to release his ball early as the game wore on so as to try to break the Algerians down. His set pieces remain ineffectual. But as one of Nigeria’s main forwards, I didn’t see many efforts on goal or many potential assists or pre-assists. In truth, it is fair to say that the Algerians had the measure of Chukwueze and this is worrying for Nigeria. 10) Samuel Kalu (6/10) – He gets a lot of praise for his pristine communication with Zaidu Sanusi. At some point, you will think they have been playing together for many seasons as their interactions were near telepathic at times. Kalu was solid in his defensive duties but was way too predictable going forward. His efforts on goal were harmless whilst his take-ons did not achieve the desired effect in so far as cracking open Algeria’s defensive wall. Always willing to come back to his right, Kalu’s trickery on the night caused the Algerians negligible harm. Perhaps Kalu should only start from the right or he should start from the bench. On account of his performance today, the Bordeaux man should be ready for stiff competition for the flanks in the Super Eagles in coming months. Centre Forward: 11)Paul Onuachu (4.5/10) – It will be easy to pour out a bucket load of criticisms on the Genk centre forward but in truth, he was partly a victim of Nigeria’s inability to dictate the tempo of the game for long periods. Onuachu did his fair share of running, closing down and interplay of passes but his inability to carve out an on-the-pitch niche for himself in Nigeria colours sadly came to the fore here again. Onuachu used his build to force a corner kick off a delightful cross from Sanusi at some point but he was found wanting when attempting to trap the ball. For a big lad, perhaps more give-and-goes or brisk passes to those around him might work. But he lost possession often and seemed not to be on the same wavelength with Iwobi (and others around him) at times. As the main centre forward, it doesn’t look good that Onuachu didn’t pepper Algerian goal for any meaningful period. In matches where Nigeria dominates play, Onuachu might be more effective, this was not such a match! Substitutes: 1) Mikel Agu (5.5/10): The Vitória de Guimarães midfielder came and got stuck in. He gave away a needless free-kick in such a dangerous area that could have gifted the Algerians a second goal. He was a willing tackler and seemed determined to thwart the attacking initiatives of the Algerians before they develop into anything more sinister. But, in an era where Super Eagles fans are yearning for flair players, Mikel Agu’s game was pretty basic, but decent nonetheless. He was positive with some of his passes as he attempted to move the ball forward rather than sideways. 2)Moses Simon (5.5/10): The Super Eagles needed something different; a game changer was needed but Moses Simon only fitted into what was (in truth) a team punching below its weight. Nigeria needed a lift but Moses did not supply this. However, he was full of running and tried to deliver some crosses. His interaction with Iwobi held much promise but they struggle to crack open the defensive shell of the Algerians. Most of his movements were read and it is safe to say he was tamed by the Algerians. Simon still showed endeavour and put in a decent shift. 3)Kevin Akpoguma (5.5/10): The Super Eagles debutant was a bit unorthodox with his marking and tackles at times and played uncomfortably in the right fullback position. He showed 0 aptitude to forward runs as he seems more at home performing the defensive aspects of the role. In that aspect, he cut a figure of Thou-shall-not-pass which suggests to me that he will be a very solid centre back. 4) Ahmed Musa (5.5/10): The Saudi based winger tried to latch on to through balls but the Algerians wrestled the ball off him several times. He seemed eager to help drag his team back into the match with quick passes and runs into dangerous areas. But Musa was very well curbed by the opposition. 5) Kelechi Iheanacho (5.5/10): The Leicester City man needed more time on the pitch for what he was trying to do to click into fruition. Iheanacho tried to create space for himself in and around the Algerian 18 yard box where he can explore a number of possibilities. These would have included bringing others into the game, dragging the Algerian defence out of position, initiating a deadly 1-2 passing routine or unleashing a fearsome shot. But he ran out of time before his plots and ploys could click into place. 6) Samson Tijani (5/10): He came in and got stuck into the thick of the game. He could not do enough to help Nigeria avoid another defeat to Algeria.
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