Jose Peseiro is now just one game left to meet his Afcon target of reaching the semi-final with the Super Eagles’ riveting and awe-inspiring 2:0 R16 win against Cameroon this weekend.
Having had a Semi Ajayi goal ruled off for marginal offside earlier in the match, a Lookman brace secured the victory in a night of unspeakable joyfulness for Super Eagles fans and wider stakeholders.
The Super Eagles will now face another tricky tie against giant killers Angola in the quarter final.
Below are my player ratings:
1. Stanley Nwabili: he delivered a performance that showed how mature he has grown in this tournament. He read dangerous situations very well on several occasions like coming out of his area to kick the ball away from danger. His distribution was on point as these either found his colleagues or caused Cameroon problems (one that located Aina and another that led to a throw in after Osihmen’s hussle caught the eye). He continues to imbue his overall presentation with a sense of confidence and assurance not just in how he posture helped to keep Cameroon at bay, but how competent his movements were. He sustained injuries twice in the line of his duties, hopefully he recovers in time for the quarter final as the psychological air of confidence he has brought to that department will be harmed in his absence. 7.5/10
2. Zaidu Sanusi: his throw in always had the potential to cause anxieties to Cameroon. Although a few crosses were overcooked, the intentions were clear and respectable. He played in part in Peseiro’s long ball strategy as one from him almost found Osihmen who was flagged off for a marginal offside. He was also sturdy in his defensive duties, often shielding his area and forcing Cameroon defenders wide before they resorted to wild and aimless crosses. He created an outlet offensively but most of these attacking potentials were left unfulfilled. It was a performance that brought satisfaction but there is scope for him to elevate the quality of his deliveries. 7/10
3. Ola Aina: his cross field long crosses into dangerous areas were a nightmare for Cameroonian players to grapple with. He was also neat and tidy with his tackles which underscore his competence in the physicality of the African game. Al it took at times was a simple touch of the ball to make it go into throw in for methodical Cameroonian attacking passage of play to break down. He tried to execute a chipped 1 – 2 manoeuvre with Frank Onyeka which added flair to the Super Eagles game. I saw him retrieve the ball from a Cameroonian and then swiftly instigate a positive passing move. One cross field long ball almost located a hard working Lookman inside Cameroon’s 18 yard box. He had one fabulous low shot blocked by a Cameroonian player after an excellent passage of passing-play from Simon, Lookman and Osihmen – it could easily have been a goal. Aina delivered an excellent performance offensively and defensively that was almost blessed with a goal. 8/10
4. William Troost-Ekong: he was simply unplayable in the air as he won aerial battle after aerial battle – before I stopped counting he had won 5 aerial battles which could have been problematic. He also did the job of Nwabili twice as he successfully mounted a goal saving blocks to frustrate the Cameroonians and eliminate the threat before reaching our goalkeeper. He executed an unbelievable headed pass from deep midfield to Osihmen who almost latched on to it before Cameroon’s keeper came to catch. There was one clearance he made shortly after a Cameroon throw in. In all, Ekong showed himself to be a true leader and a behemoth in defence. He also played a huge part in orchestrating subtle attacking initiatives. This has to be by far the best tournament he has had with Nigeria to date. 8/10
5. Semi Ajayi: he had a well taken goal chopped off in what I deem to be controversial circumstances. Yes, when Simon played the initial shot, Ajayi was behind the goalkeeper and thus offside. But, in a millisecond, the goalkeeper punched the ball to Ajayi at a time Ajayi was on par with him thereby cancelling his initial offside position. Anyway, Ajayi almost cost Nigeria a goal after losing the ball in midfield which led to Cameroon swarming Nigeria’s area before being repelled. That aside; he won a lot of physical battles to thwart Cameroon. His communication with his defensive colleagues was spot on. For the most part, he was dialled in and maintained composure when required. In all, Ajayi was decisive apart from the one moment of lapse that I observer. 7/10
6. Calvin Bassey: he won a lot of physical battles and looked very assured when with the ball. He would often force Cameroonian strikers wide and he seemed to have defensive solutions for all the problems posed against him by Cameroon. His anticipation was top notch as he would run forward to execute tackles and intercept dangerous opposition passes before these can snowball into something really dangerous. Nigeria’s second goal was all about him. Firstly, he casually travelled with the ball into an offensive area before being fouled out of frustration. He then formed part of a triangle of 3 players whose give and take passes led to Lookman’s second goal. This was a measured and truly impactful performance from Bassey who was deadly with or without the ball. 8/10
7. Alex Iwobi: he drove the ball forward, albeit in short distances, with authority and intent on a number of occasions. I noticed one or two really promising Nigerian chances collapse so close to Cameroon 18 yard box because of poor touch from Iwobi. But, by and large majority of his short passes were either executed to perfection or they almost located their intended recipients. He was also instrumental in Nigeria’s second goal as he was well positioned to receive and then release the pass just outside the 18 yard box for the cross that led to the goal. Iwobi covered a lot of grounds. As a senior midfield player, I expected a bit more finesse (like doing better with one shot he had on goal), better first touches and greater vision from him. But the intentions were there and his hard work and determination came through in how he tried to be in promising areas and how he tried to keep the machinery of the team going with neat and simple passes. 7/10
8. Frank Onyeka: he rightly earned his title of “the Tank” today with a midfield performance characterised by brute and beautiful midfield play which sabotaged efforts of Cameroon time and time again. I loved how he stole the ball from a Cameroon (like an expect Pick-pocket) before threading a delightful pass upstream to instigate an attacking manoeuvre for Nigeria. There was a situation where 3 Cameroonian strikers were mounting an assault against our 3 Nigerian centre backs. From nowhere, Onyeka just arrived on the scene, retrieved the ball and then turned the table with a pass to opposition area – simply and utterly brilliant. He did a Yusuf by running with the ball from midfield close to Cameroon’s 18 yard box before being fouled in a dangerous area. Barring injury, it is hard to see how Yusuf will wrest a starting berth from Onyeka on this form in a formation that only accommodates 2 midfielders. 8/10
9. Moses Simon: most of his hard work went unnoticed because he was a thief. Moses was always either looking for loose balls up front or trying to nick the ball from the Cameroonians in dangerous areas. He helped the team to maintain the structural integrity of the formation when not in possession and he chipped in defensively severally, even earning a yellow card. One nice cross from right wing by Simon was begging for connection inside the 18 yard box. By just being a nuisance, he kept the Cameroonian defenders on their toes but he was less influential with the ball as he would have been on the left (where Lookman now has a stranglehold on). 6.5/10
10. Victor Osihmen: very early in the game, it was clear that Osihmen will be a nightmare for the Cameroonian with his pace and pressing executions. There were no lost causes for this guy. He ran into space of all – I mean all – the long balls that were launched at him or into space with forcefulness, gusto and vigour. He tried to execute an exquisite 1-2 passing manoeuvre with Lookman after good work from Iwobi earlier on. He launched one beautiful long ball to Moses Simon from deep in midfield that had to be repelled to by Cameroon. His marauding runs into dangerous areas caused Cameroonian defenders and goalkeepers so much headache and his Super Eagles colleagues even from the bench descended on the officials to offer Osihmen much protection. For Lookman’s goal, he was on the Cameroon defender like a rash, capitalizing on the defender’s poor touch to nick the ball and square across 2 players to Lookman who did the business. Osihmen came to life in this game. Apart from scoring, centre forwards are to create openings and help pin back the opposition. Osihmen was colossal! 8.5/10
11. Ademola Lookman: His corner kick caused and persistence after the initial kick caused all the problems that opened up the space for Ajayi’s disallowed goal. His long freekick held much promise. He ran into space to connect with Osihmen’s pass before squirming his low drive past the goalkeeper for Nigeria’s 1st goal. He delivered one lovely through pass to Osihmen that was beautiful to see. His tackles and interceptions in support of Zaidu’s defensive duties were noteworthy. He unselfishly delivered one brilliant pass on the plate to Aina in Cameroon’s 18 yard box. He combined well with his colleagues and took his chance well for Nigeria’s second goal. It was a compelling all round performance from Lookman which will go some way in earning him a place in the CAF 11 of the knockout stages. 9/10
12. Jose Peseiro: his decision to continue with the 3-4-3 formation proved to be a masterstroke. His long (or short)-balls-across-short-distances strategy freed up Osihmen a million times to unsettle the defence of Cameroon. Although he no longer plays 4-2-4, the intention of launching long balls is retained, just that this time, it is done with more variety and in a manner that unleashed the beast in Osihmen. His defensive apparatus kept a clean sheet for the umpteenth time whilst his midfield duo did what was expected of them. The interaction between the 3 defenders was seamless, the understanding up front between the front 3 was effective, the way the player movements wove into the fabric of the formation produced a performance that made Cameroon look so ordinary. Top marks. 9.
1, Omeruo slotted into the back three effortlessly. He drove the ball forward with intent on one occasion and shielded his area well overall. 6.5/10
2, Uzoho finally feels at home in the same formational set up that has thus far protected Nwabili and hidden his shortcomings. He looked assured and commanding It has to be noted that the only goal Nigeria and Nwabili conceded in this tournament was when a formation of 2 centre backs was used (the same formation that exposed Okoye and Uzoho in the past). 6/10
3, Onuachu shielded the ball well up front, tried to draw fouls and helped Nigeria waste time. 5/10
4, Osayi-Samuel would pray to see more meaningful minutes in future games.