Nigeria vs. Angola: 1-0 (Retrospective Player Ratings)
Those fans who hissed when enigmatic coach Peseiro said he can win the Afcon for Nigeria at the first time of asking will now be having egg in their faces. We haven’t won the tournament yet but Peseiro won contract extension with Nigeria’s thrilling and nail-biting 1:0 win against Angola in the quarter-finals to be firmly on the right track towards at least not leaving the tournament empty handed.
In an evening of fascinating football, all it took was a fabulous finish from the irrepressible Lookman deep in the 18 yard box after a marauding run and eloquently driven cut back from Simon who bided his time for Lookman to arrive and connect with style.
It was really hard for me to thoroughly enjoy the game and soak in the atmosphere as I was tensed with the formidable challenge and threat that Angola posed all night. But the same level of simple yet ruthless efficiency, the Super Eagles got their signature solo goal with Onuachu and co coming in later on to shut up shop. It was a tactical masterclass in a smash & grab, contain & confine strategy.
I now go on to my observations about the players' performances.
1.Stanley Nwabili: he implemented his responsibilities with focus, confidence and assurances. His powerful palm diverted the course of a perilous goal-bound effort off a corner kick in the first half on a 1-1 situation – that ball could easily have sneaked in. He helped the team build out from the back with neat passes that were simple, yet effective, underlying his sterling qualities as a modern day goalie. On one unfortunate occasion though, his signature throw-out went straight to an opponent which led to a dangerous situation culminating in him having to then make a save thereby bailing himself out. When called into action again, he punched away excellently and emphatically from a tricky long range swirling shot (in the dying minutes) to retain our 1:0 lead and send a signal of his intentions to yet again keep a clean sheet. This was further emphasised when he grabbed a looping ball on the air in the dying minutes compellingly with an Angola waiting to head home. And he also executed some seemingly simple yet telling grabs, catches and saves. He was busier on the night and he stood up to be counted, making contributions that kept Nigeria in the game as he totally won me over with his unyielding attitude. 7/10
2.Zaidu Sanusi: On an individual level, Zaidu’s performance was slightly frustrating, leaving a lot to be desired. But on a team level, he played his part with heart, gusto passion to make the Super Eagles a well oiled, well drilled machine which was symbolised by his role in Nigeria’s only goal. He delivered a mixed bag competency and clumsiness. He allowed himself to be dribbled with the Angolan making it all the way inside the 18 yard box before being foiled by Ekong. In fact The Angola winger stole behind him on one occasion and the opponents seem to have him in their pocket. He was caught in two minds in the opposition 18 yard box when a simple cross in good time could have served Nigeria well, but the opportunity was wasted. Some of his crosses were effectively blocked and dealt with by Angola either because they were not well delivered or they were delivered late. He also shot in the air one time. But he delivered a great freekick; provided pre-assist for Lookman’s goal with a sublime pass to Simon, made some nice interceptions; and was always well positioned offensively or defensively to support the structural integrity of the formation which left me satisfied, on balance, with his overall performance. 5.5/10
3.Ola Aina: he was a constant menace to the Angolans on the right wing in a performance laced with valuable collaboration with Lookman, Simon and others around him. He balanced the offensive and defensive aspects of his game with class and energy. One telling tackle and interception brought the entire attacking interplay of Angola crumbling. He did lose an Angolan striker on one occasion which led to a dangerous cross inside Nigeria’s 18 yard box; on another occasion he slipped and lost his man leading to Nigeria conceding a needless free kick. He was dribbled on one occasion only to track the same player and retrieve the ball with a tackle of grace and eloquence. He joined the attack at will to support Lookman and Onyeka in weaving uncluttered passes, keeping Nigeria on the front foot. He drove the ball forward from midfield into a dangerous area before being fouled. Again, the quality of his long balls and crosses were magnificent leaving me engaged and excited. The effectiveness of his presence and contributions down the right cannot be overemphasised despite some mild hiccups when defending. 6.5/10
4.William Troost-Ekong: he once again dispatched his role with sturdiness and a high level of concentration that definitely contributed to Nigeria’s clean sheet. Not content to perform his own role, Ekong was also on hand to bail out his colleagues when all hope was almost lost. He also performed his role offensively with long balls launched into attacking territory – one such balls in around 5 minutes led to a scramble inside Angolan 18 yard box. In one truly dangerous situation, he was on hand to blast the ball away following a rebound off the post with Nwabili beaten. He executed several goal-saving body blocks, one via a well timed and eloquently delivered sliding tackle. Ekong was always on hand to mop up inside the 18 yard box to clear away from danger with compelling swipes at the ball. I was totally invested in his defensive display which was cladded with much leadership and control of his area with or without the ball. He worked assiduously not to put a foot wrong and to be at the right place at the right time to deliver the right defensive manoeuvres. 7.5/10
5.Calvin Bassey: his performance on the night contributed towards keeping the entire machinery of the 3-man defence ticking. That said, he almost dispossessed inside Nigeria’s 18 yard box whilst building out from the back which got me scared. But his interceptions and clearances were productive for the most part, particularly one volley-type clearance to avert danger. He foiled the Angolans on a number of 1-on-1 occasions. One headed clearance helped to keep Angola at bay whilst his composure on the ball helped Nigeria retain possession and recycle the ball. He almost scored a goal with a powerful header off a corner kick that only just sailed wide. He was positionally astute to be in the right place to mark out the opposition and support Nigeria’s strategy of frustrating the opposition. One signature long ball to Osihmen in the dying minutes saw Angolan goalkeeper rush out to head away. It was an overall performance that found a home in me in execution and how he went about his business with focus, determination and concentration, balancing physical aspects with technical prowess. 7/10
6.Semi Ajayi: he joined the attack earlier on and almost contributed towards a goal, serving as a decoy to receive Ekong’s long pass. His overall presentation was tainted in minor blemishes which he rectified with the better aspects of his game. One wayward offensive pass ceded possession to Angola and he also lost his ball and man in a dangerous area which caused Nigeria problems. The biggest chance for Angola came via a through ball that evaded Ajayi only for the Angolan striker to beat Nwabili and crash the bar before Ekong came to the rescue speedily. But I recall one exquisite marking-tackle and retrieval of the ball on a 1 on 1 occasion inside Nigeria’s 18 yard box which left a lasting impression on me. I recall another fantastic headed clearance. He was also looking to play his part in Nigeria’s clever interplay of passes into midfield and beyond. His long ball attempts also caught the eye. He was always a dangerous outlet in Nigeria’s set piece routines. 6.5/10
7. Alex Iwobi: he brought much value and credibility to his midfield display in a performance and overall movement well woven into the fabric of the formation. When I saw some carefully telegraphed long balls, I had to go back and watch to confirm it was Iwobi delivering them. One long ball was successful in finding Osihmen whilst another cross-field long ball held promise. Following one miss-kick from Ajayi, the ball bubbled into Nigeria’s defensive midfield territory where Iwobi was on hand to collect the ball and drive forward with intent. He executed some weak shots from long range which were dealt with. He also played a part in Nigeria’s goal by being involved in the passing routine that brought it about. He attempted several through and driven passes to varying levels of success. He combined well with Onyeka to anchor the offensive and defensive midfield aspects of their roles. It’s not a rock-star performance that stands out and not a performance to praise to high heavens. But it was a performance that left me totally delighted and one that DIRECTLY got us the goal we needed. 6.5/10
8.Frank Onyeka: he brought solidity to bear in a midfield display that goes straight into the heart of what made the formation work excellently. On several occasions, he helped the team to retain possession by fending off his marker and executing simple but effective driven passes. He bailed out his defenders on one occasion by intercepting the ball deep inside Nigeria’s 18 yard box before dousing the danger with a great clearance. He delivered one beautiful cross for Osihmen to head just wide. Though he doesn’t have pace, you still see him drive or attempt to drive the ball forward, adding much needed mobility to Nigeria’s midfield. In what is becoming a habit, he stole the ball neatly from an Angolan in midfield before feeding Simon and then running into the 18 yard box to deliver a deft cross that was blocked – awesome! His connection was also woven into the labyrinth of passes that led to Nigeria’s only goal – such was his impact. He instituted several blockages and body-blocks in Nigeria’s defensive-midfield department. He was stretchered out for his troubles. It was an overall display that grabbed my attention and renewed my new-found respect for Onyeka as a force in Nigeria’s midfield. 7/10
9.Moses Simon: he reminded fans of the flair and panache he brings to bear (particularly from the left side) by slicing across 2 Angolan defenders like blade though cheese before crashing his shot into a body of players inside opposition 18 yard box with Osihmen begging for service. Simon delivered the goods across so many fascinating levels in a compelling and thoroughly engrossing manner. He formed a formidable force with Lookman, Aina and Osihmen, aided by others around them, to trouble Angola with movements and passes that created openings and kept Nigeria on the driving seat. A low cross to Lookman inside opposition 18 yard box needed attention and his runs often had to be halted. He executed defensive interceptions from midfield and always fell back to provide defensive cover with tackles, interceptions and markings. One traditional cross from the wing to Osihmen was noteworthy and another low cross to Lookman caught the eye. He would power through a ruthless hack job of a sliding tackle to run into the 18 yard box, wait for his partner in crime Lookman to arrive and then feed him for Nigeria’s winning goal. Needless say that Simon’s overall play – offensively and defensively – left me with a facial flush of excitement. I struggle to find any area of fault as he thoroughly made his presence felt and he had a nice time doing it. 8/10
10.Victor Osihmen: what a player! In modern football, a centre forward’s role is not only to score. Contributing compellingly to a winning strategy is far more valuable and respected than individual pursuit of vainglory. I counted 3 occasions where Osihmen headed the ball away from danger when Nigeria was defending set-pieces, underlining why he is irreplaceably as the consummate all-round team player. He served as a decoy, drawing attention away from Simon and Lookman, leaving both players to shine and wreak havoc. He connected with a number of headers at goal which troubled Angola with one actually scoring but cancelled for offside. He was always lurking in dangerous areas, ready to pounce at the slightest opportunity like when Simon failed to pass to him having dribbled past 2 players. He contributed to a number of offensive passing routines which left the opposition guessing as to what his primary role was. A blocked shot inside opposition 18 yard box after him and Lookman were on a 2 v2 situation in the dying minutes almost resulted in a goal for Nigeria. He would fly under the radar, seemingly harmless, only to pop up from nowhere to either contribute offensively or defensively. A through pass from him to Lookman in the dying minutes saw the goalkeeper rush out of his 18 yard box to clear. His movements were surreptitious and sublime which left me with intrigue, excitement and fascination, not knowing what he will do next. 8/10
11. Ademola Lookman: it was yet again a powerful display by Lookman who encompasses everything in this thief-midfield-mentality of the team. He will come from the front to continually chip away at the Angolans like a maggot when Nigeria was defending before dispossessing them and turning the table with offensive passes. H e combined well with Osihmen to produce a series of passes. A sublime cross to Zaidu inside the 18 yard box was blasted to open heavens by Zaidu. A great through pass to Osihmen on a 2 v 2 situation led to a blocked shot. He was always a menace in and around opposition 18 yard box with a series of low crosses that held promise. His movements and drives towards opposition area had intent and purpose written all over them. He arrived in the 18 yard box just in time to slam the roof of the net for Nigeria’s only goal. He was also as busy as bee in defence, dropping deep to tackle and intercept whilst (as already mentioned) coming from behind like a thief to collect the ball from the opposition. This has become a staple of Peseiro’s game with Onyeka, Osihmen Simon and Lookman particularly prolific at this pick-pocket thieving mentality. Lookman’s performance offensively and defensively drew me in and left me thoroughly captivated and engaged in the football. 7.5/10
12. Alhassan Yusuf: he orchestrated a 2 v 2 situation with a splendid long ball from defensive midfield to Lookman which almost led to a goal bringing his class and quality to full view within just minutes of coming on. His marinaded his movements into the infrastructure of the formation in a manner that helped to consolidate Nigeria’s position. 5/10
13. Joe Aribo: another thief, coming in to eat away at the Angolan midfielders like stubborn weed when Nigeria was defending. In 89 minutes, one such manoeuvre forced Angola to go back before re-launching their offense. A pass to Aina (following good work from Simon to power past players and cross and Lookman who kept his cool), though initially poorly executed at least allowed Nigeria retain possession for few precious minutes. 5/10
14. Paul Onuachu: he gave away possession by allowing a nice through ball to touch him before going to throw in for Angola. As expected, he won a free kick for Nigeria with his hold up lay. He held the ball by the corner flag to waste valuable time. 6/10
Kenneth Omeruo: he slotted into defence seamlessly. 5/10
Jose Peseiro: I don’t have much to say. He selected the right players and effected to right substitutes to bring out the effectiveness in his formation. The movements he instructed were very glaringly successful in harnessing the skills, talents and potentials in all the players. He is now justified in his boasts and no longer has anything to prove to anybody. He has refined the way his team play and reinvented a style that rejuvenated the players offensively and defensively. Players like Onuachu and Osihmen had some of their most telling moments supporting the integrity of the formation rather than scoring goals. The lapses of a player like Zaidu can be forgiven simply because of how the formation positions him to still leave a positive impression. Iwobi doesn’t need to be Luka Modric or Kevin De bruyne for Nigeria’s midfield to click into gear. Troost Ekong is simply unrecognisable while Nwabili has brought smiles back to Nigerian faces. Peseiro has got all of these players pulling in the right direction, producing the right goods and propelling Nigeria to greatness. 10/10