Nigeria’s Super Eagles ended the October friendly match window with 1 draw and 1 loss out of 2 matches following a careless 1:1 tie against Tunisia yesterday with victory well in sight. Leicester City’s Iheanacho turned from hero to villain in the space of 9 minutes after scoring a glorious goal in 21 minutes to put Nigeria ahead only to spurn a golden opportunity to extend that lead in 30 minutes with a poorly prosecuted penalty kick. Mohammed Drager then dragged the Tunisians back into the match in 44 minutes when his delicious shot sent Goalkeeper Okoye to Sokoto with the ball destined for Port Harcourt. 1:1 it ended. Gernot Rohr has thus failed to mastermind a victory for the Super Eagles in our last 4 friendly matches managing 3 draws (from winning positions) and 1 loss against Ukraine, Brazil, Algeria and Tunisia in the space of 12 months. Here are my brief observations on how the players fared in a clear night in Austria yesterday against Tunisia. Player ratings: Starters: Goalkeeper: 1) Maduka Okoye (7/10) – Another convincing display from the young goalkeeper who made decent saves in the match to underscore his fine reflexes. There is a composure and demeanour about this lad that makes me to feel that the Super Eagles goalpost is safe in his hands. His starting position and runs are good and his catching technique is reassuring. However, Okoye can be caught out of position when he fully commits himself to a cause of action with leaves him hopelessly exposed if he guesses wrongly. In all, he played well. Full-backs: 2) Kevin Akpoguma (6.5/10) – This is a player trying too hard to impress his new Super Eagles fan base. He reminds me of someone who just started a new job and is willing to impress his new boss. Defensively Kevin is calm and calculative; offensively, he can be a handful for Nigeria in set-pieces as he almost scored off one. However, he scarcely delivers signature full back crosses. Kevin’s overall performance as a right fullback would not give any of Ebuehi, Awaziem or Aina sleepless nights. It is Ekong and Omeruo who need to be looking off their shoulders because once Akpoguma comes to his own as a CB, someone will have to make way. 3) Sanusi Zaidu (7/10) – Oh my days! I was loving Sanusi’s wicked long throw-ins which reminded me of Okocha’s throw-in that helped bring Nigeria back from the dead against Brazil in the 1996 Olympics. His interceptions, markings and tackles were as camera-friendly as they were effective. It is now clear to me that Zaidu Sanusi can strike a good relationship with any Super Eagles winger worth a grain salt. He showed understanding with Simon as he did against Kalu which even makes the wingers look better. Offensively, defensively and in set pieces, Zaidu was top notch Centre-backs: 4) Leon Balogun (8/10) – Goodness me! This guy is a born-again centre back with evidence of speaking in tongues that will take you to a centre defender’s paradise. I know this might sound too much but elements of Balogun’s play reminded me of Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk. Yesterday, he timed his tackled well, intercepted to desired effect, won a number of aerial and ground duels whilst driving the ball towards the opposition area like an angry terrorist driving a van through a crowd of demonstrators with victims flying left, right and centre. Balogun is undoubtedly rejuvenated. 5) Kenneth Omeruo (6/10) – The Leganes man will always win hearts for his fantastic work rate but he will break the same hearts with sloppy defending and loss of concentration. As usual, the 2013 Afcon Gold medallist “turned up” yesterday with willingness to carry out his tasks to the best of his abilities. But, he lost his man (twice) en route to Tunisia’s goal and mistimed his tackles more than once. With options not aplenty for the Super Eagles, Omeruo’s foibles can be overlooked. However, as more and more indigenous and dual nationality players with dynamic capabilities are queuing up for their slice of the Super Eagles cake, Omeruo might be the one to give way if he does not rid himself of irritating shortcomings. Midfielders: 6) Semi Ajayi (7.5/10) – Good grief! Was this the same defensive midfielder who played against Algeria or was it a clone? In sharp contrast to his penultimate game, Ajayi close-marked the Tunisians and conjured some intercepting manoeuvres that were beautiful to the viewing eye. Ajayi, who is now clearly ahead of Mikel Agu in Super Eagles pecking order, broke down Tunisian play, won aerial battles, sprayed long and short high and low passes and covered a lot of grounds. His dynamic capabilities were in full display last night. 7) Alex Iwobi (8.5/10) – The Everton man makes watching him play for Nigeria similar to being part of an audience watching an orchestra because he oozes of class. This Energizer-bunny-in-Green-White-Green was full of running, tackling, passing and dictating play. He pressed and probe and delivered a delicious long diagonal pass to pick out Chukwueze in the first half; this is something we would like to see more of. Iwobi covered a lot of grounds and never seemed satisfied until he has made things happen. He is one Super Eagles player able to shrug off attention from opposition teams in a manner that enhances his effectiveness. Wingers: 8) Samuel Chukwueze (7/10) – The Villareal man needs to be able to retain his stability even after failed dribble attempts so that he is still able to do something meaningful in such scenarios. In yesterday’s match, Chukwueze caused the Tunisians countless headaches and they often had to double up on him so that he does cause them harm. Chukwueze was as lively as ever as he released balls early at times, sliced through Tunisia’s defence and delivered some testing corner kicks. But his end product still seems to be hamstrung from his inability shrug off multiple attentions from defenders. But, he did well 9) Moses Simon (6.5/10) – Being a former defender himself, coach Gernot Rohr will continue to be happy with Moses Simon because his best output continues to be in the defensive aspect of his role. Tunisia almost took the lead earlier in the match but thankfully, Simon’s last ditch interception in Nigeria’s 18 yard box came in handy. Quite a lot of his pull-backs and crosses failed to connect in the opposition’s box 18 but he nonetheless put in a shift that meant the Tunisians could not just take him for granted (and they knew that). Moses Simon can still profit from defenders’ loss of concentration. Strikers: 10) Kelechi Iheanacho (7/10) – The Leicester City man scored 9th goal in 26 Super Eagles games having swivelled and swerved before leaving his marker totally flummoxed and then slot home with calm and charm. Before that, Iheanacho was hustling and harassing the Tunisians in order to win back possession for Nigeria in a performance that was pleasing to the eye. His penalty was poor as he lacked conviction running down to take the kick. But that aside, Iheanacho was in the mood as he moved in a manner that caused problems and tried to pick out Musa with some tantalising through passes. Earning a yellow card only goes to show that he wasn’t just satisfied performing the attacking part of his role. 11) Ahmed Musa (6.5/10) – His assist to Iheanacho’s goal was simply and utterly brilliant because he made something happen almost out of nothing. In that move, he showed awareness to anticipate Iheanacho’s run before adjusting his body to deliver a pass that landed where his strike partner wanted. As with all the other players in this match, Musa was not a passenger. He tried to connect with a lot of passes, one of which led to him being fouled for the penalty that Iheanacho fluffed. Musa added another flavour to his interpretation of his centre forward role which reminded me of how well he partnered Iheanacho against Iceland at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Substitutes: 1) Chidozie Awaziem (6/10): The Boavista man came in and subsequently took his position in the right back position. That department did not collapse as a result of Awaziem’s introduction meaning he did what was expected. He took his position to launch some of his signature crosses whilst he performed his defensive duties admirably well. His overly physical approach to marking could have earned him a booking on another day. 2) Jamilu Collins (6/10): The German-based left full back now has a mountain to climb to regain his automatic starting 11 slot following Sanusi’s blistering start to life as a Super Eagle. However, Collins reminded fans of his salient qualities yesterday as he put in a shift that demonstrated that he can still be trusted when called upon. Not a lot was seen of him in the way of overlapping runs. 3) Cyriel Dessers (6/10): Wasn’t exactly his dream debut but he still had an effort on goal. More will surely come from the Genk forward who didn’t get into the match enough for Nigerians to fully gauge what he brings to the Super Eagles table. 4) Chidera Ejuke (6/10): Samuel Chukwueze part 2! I think Ejuke held on to the ball longer than necessary at times but his dribbling abilities aren’t in dispute. It is what happens afterwards that will need to be polished in coming games if Nigeria is to truly reap rewards from Ejuke and Chukwueze’s take-ons.
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