The Super Eagles bagged their route to the second round of the ongoing Afcon tournament with the proverbial game to spare following a breezy 3:1 win against stubborn Sudan today.
We fans were looking for a punchy start from the Eguavoen’s mercenaries to set the tone and Chukwueze duly obliged in just 3 minutes when his neat effort just inside the 18 yard box riffled through a body of players to leave the goalkeeper marooned; 1:0 to Nigeria.
Though we were leading as per score-line, it was the Sudanese who seemed in the driving seat shortly afterwards. They pushed hard for an equaliser, doubled up on and neutralised our danger-men, stopped the Super Eagles from settling into a rhythm and attempted to take command of the midfield.
However they were soon bundled back to the passenger seat after Awoniyi’s phantom header off Ekong’s delightful headed-lob gave the Super Eagles an unassailable 2:0 lead just before half time.
And after marvellous Moses Simon added gloss to the scores in 46 minutes, the Sudanese were well and truly pushed out of the high speed vehicle. His neat near-post finish – following a move he begun from the flanks with his darting run past a body of hapless defenders and looping pass to Awoniyi – was a joy to behold; 3:0 to Nigeria.
Sudan did pull one back from the penalty spot following a needless infraction from Aina but it did nothing to dampen the mood of us fans; 3:1 in the end.
I now take a look at how the players rated.
1. Maduka Okoye (5.5/10) didn’t look overly convincing in some of the saves he produced today. There was a long ball that came from his left flank in the second half that he misjudged and dropped only to pick it up the second time; this could have led to a major incident. Towards the end of the match, Okoye also seemed to make a hash of a low parry from the same left side with his effort falling kindly to Ekong’s feet. Had that been a sharp opponent, the outcome would have been very different. He made a number of routine saves and his starting position was often decent enough for him to come out and collect the ball severally.
Although you can never blame a goalkeeper for not saving a penalty, Okoye’s attempt in trying to do just that was just unattractive as he was beaten hopelessly. He did try to locate Iwobi with one of his distributions but nothing useful came out of it. In all Okoye doesn’t always inspire confidence. He is the number one and he puts up a very decent shift. Though very committed, he is susceptible to some questionable judgements.
2. Ola Aina (7/10) could definitely claim a pre-assist for Chukwueze’s opener as his gravity defying throw-in kicked off the melee that eventually led to the goal. After Iwobi was introduced, he had more freedom to bomb forward at will with purposeful runs that were beautiful to the eye. A lot of his crosses were decent with the one he delivered following a pass from Iwobi holding much promise. There was one driven pass he delivered to Awoniyi which could have led to a goal on another day. At the back, he was also solid bar his needless shirt-pull that earned him a yellow and Nigeria penalty. Apart from that, Aina hardly put a foot wrong. He carried out his role with verve and energy. He was a willing outlet offensively and a promontory at the back. He is growing to be one of Big Boys of this Super Eagles outfit alongside Simon and Aribo. His place in this Super Eagles starting 11 is rock solid.
3) Sanusi Zaidu (7/10) performed his defensive duties to very high standards today particularly in the first half when the Sudanese were in the ascendancy. His crosses were to acceptable levels though scopes for improvement exist. There was a time he shielded the ball around 30 minutes that caught the eye delightfully. He kept his passes simple and some were intricate. His attention-to-position was spot on today. Zaidu executed a made-for-camera sliding-tackle-interception and retrieval in the second half that underlined his credentials as a UEFA Champions League full back.
All in all it was a good day in the office for the Porto man. He hasn’t given the fans reasons to grumble and continues to evoke pleasant memories of iconic players like Babayaro who want held the reins in that position for the Super Eagles.
4) William Troost-Ekong (8/10) put up an incredible performance offensively that made me think he went to bed last night dreaming of scoring a goal today. At least he provided an assist. Ekong’s eloquent volley off a Moses Simon free kick almost found the back of the net before a goals mouth scramble ensued shortly afterwards. The beauty behind the technique he employed for that volley can’t be over-emphasised. He also almost latched on to a through ball inside Sudan’s 18 yard box intending to rattle the net. His assist for Awoniyi’s ghost headed goal was masterful: perfectly placed inside the 18 yard box, he navigated his header towards Awoniyi who only needed the Head of God to help him divert the ball inside the net.
Defensively – his primary subroutine – Ekong was solid. He was alert to pull off several blockages throughout the match as he matched the physicality of the Sudanese. His long balls from the back to mainly Awoniyi needed significant efforts by the Sudanese to be neutralised. In all, Ekong delivered a delightful all round performance as he looked to be thoroughly at home and at peace with himself.
5) Kenneth Omeruo (6/10) was alert throughout this match to contain the stubborn Sudanese who were determined in the first have to find a route back into the match. He was content to hold the fort while adventurous Ekong forayed forward almost at will. He moved the ball towards the halfway line several times before attempting to locate Moses Simon with driven or high balls (these were hit and miss efforts). Had he executed a low cross masterfully towards 86 minutes, Nigeria could have profited out of it. His communication with those around him was effective as he looked to play with a calm head. His defensive positioning did not create needless gaps and he did not produce some of those ridiculous comedic-incompetent moments that he is capable of.
All in all, there can be little complaint about how Omeruo dispensed his duties today. But sterner tests await.
6) Wilfred Ndidi (6/10) moved further forward after Nwakali’s introduction but nothing overly meaningful or memorable came out of it. Having said that; he seemed to strike a good understanding with the Huesca man. Uncharacteristically, I spotted Ndidi lose possession a few times. He appeared to lose the midfield battle to the Sudanese in the first half as he struggled to help Nigeria gain a foothold. There were also a few overcooked passes and he also lost his footing at times. Having said all that, his tackles and interceptions improved as the game wore on. Also, he delivered his fair share of simple passes to push the team forward. The experiment to use him as a sort of creative outlet after Nwakali came on didn’t really work with me.
All in all, Ndidi did not allow himself to be drawn out of position. Yes, the Sudanese dominated the midfield in parts of the first half; it didn’t mean that Ndidi was entirely overrun. However, he didn’t impose himself as one of the Big Boys of the Super Eagles today despite carrying out his DM tasks to very acceptable levels (for the most parts).
7) Joe Aribo (7/10) had more of a solid than spectacular performance today. Based on the team formation, he and Ndidi could not help tame midfield rage of the Sudanese in the first half. The opposition paid some attention to him (being well aware of his threat) and he struggled slightly to shake them off initially. Following his exceptional performance against Egypt, opposition eyes will be on him just as the Sudanese sought to choke him out of the game earlier on. I also recall seeing Aribo lose possession at times but he also retrieved the ball and recycled possession several times for Nigeria. His passes were pleasant and his movements were purposeful without necessarily having the poise and elegance displayed against Egypt. His attention-to-position remained pristine as well as the intensity to which he applies in dispensing his tasks. He also had an attempt at goal following a cut-back from Awoniyi. He also drew a foul for Nigeria in a promising position as the Sudanese tried to contain him.
Aribo is no push-over and even despite today’s showing, he remains one of the Big Boys of this Super Eagles outfit.
8) Kelechi Iheanacho’s (5.5/10) rabble rousing free-kick during the match caused a commotion that led to Awoniyi’s goal off Ekong’s flick. His through ball to Awoniyi in 26 minutes was sublime. However, Iheanacho was sporadic in impact today. He didn’t really exert himself in the match and few golden moments came from him. With the Sudanese on the front foot early in the first half, Iheanacho seemed starved of service. A lot was expected of him today owing to his tag of senior man but this to me was a junior display. Iheanacho’s tendency to blow hot and cold is legendary and in this match, he failed to effectively stamp his authority
He did hustle and tried to get stuck in but was ultimately unable to sustain his performance to a standard that one can applaud. Yet, he played his part in maintaining the team shape and extending Nigeria’s lead.
9) Samuel Chukwueze (6/10) is fast growing into Eguavoen’s philosophy of defending in droves. He tracked backed expertly to shore up the midfield and defence when Nigeria were under the cosh in the first half. He provided an extra body to help neutralise a Sudanese threat following a corner kick. He also defended doggedly following another breakaway from the Sudanese shortly afterwards. His crosses to dangerous areas were decent enough and his corner kicks to corridors of uncertainty created chaos for Sudan. And his goal was heart-warming to fans in just 5 minutes following his neat drive that went through a body of defenders before leaving the goalkeeper at sea.
In spite of all his good work today, Chukwueze is yet to really arrive in this tournament. His performances across both games are largely subdued by his standard. Defensively he has improved massively but offensively he is yet to fire on all cylinders. He is too predictable and over-relies on left foot for almost everything. His take-ons aren’t generating jaw dropping moments and he doesn’t get into too many promising positions. Massive improvements are required to live up to his owns lofty standards.
10) Moses Simon (8.5/10 – my Man of The Match) tore through a platoon of defenders before giving a looping pass and then ghosting into the 18 yard box to finish off the return pass (off a defender) with aplomb for Nigeria’s 3rd goal. Before then, his brilliantly floated in-swinging free kick in 35 minutes caused mayhem as Ekong and others almost scored from it. I think he actually joined in the goals mouth melee that ensued sometime afterwards. Throughout the match Simon was a creative outlet for the Super Eagles. Tried as they might, the Sudanese found him too hot to handle and too cold to hold. He kept driving at them from the left with menace. He accelerated into space with purpose and executed his take-ons expertly. His set piece deliveries were also eye catching as were his simple yet effective passes. He produced magical moments of note with his movements and his goal was the peak of the bunch.
Simon is undoubtedly the surprise star of this Afcon. Two years ago in Egypt, his impact was near-negligible. In fact towards the tail end of Rohr’s reign, many had given up on him as a veritable, viable winger for Nigeria. However, Simon has proven many wrong with his displays today (and against Egypt) that were laced with creativity, craft and class. His crosses even improved. If he keeps this up, I can confidently predict that Moses Simon will make the CAF IX at the end.
11) Taiwo Awoniyi (7/10) delivered a great driven pass to Aribo which could have resulted in a goal. He tends to drop deep to try to retrieve the ball for Nigeria and then run into the space he created to collect any resulting pass to then wreck havoc. He did get into promising positions in which one such occasion led to his goal. The ball the ballooned off his head and it was by far not a neat header, but, Awoniyi gets credit for planting himself in the right location to profit from Ekong’s headed flick. Similarly to his goal, his presence also resulted in the pass back to Simon for Nigeria’s 3rd goal. He made a fantastic run in 26 minutes to meet Iheanacho’s eloquent through ball before scuffing his shot. Really, Awoniyi needs to be doing better.
When it comes to work rate, one can’t fault Awoniyi. But when it comes to output, I am afraid he is a bit wayward. He doesn’t take his chances with icy precision. The killer instinct is missing. Even his goal and assist today were rather awkward. Really, Awoniyi needs to be doing better.
_Substitute Players and Coach Ratings:_
1.Sadiq Umar (4/10) was not involved in any moments of note in this game. He had a shot on goal which could best be described as lame. He tried to keep up with the pace of the game but out ran the ball on occasions. What he did do well was to provide extra body for Nigeria up front that meant the Sudanese had to think twice before over-committing to attack. He also won a foul for Nigeria in a promising position. It is safe to say that Sadiq is yet to work out what works for him to produce a compelling performance for Nigeria with the time allotted to him. His movement is yet to sync with his colleagues and the tactical formation of the team does not seem to bring out the best of his qualities.
2. Kelechi Nwakali (6/10) is gradually starting to warm into the tournament. He looked assured in the defensive midfield department; his defensive skills were however not put to the test. He seemed nippy and fluid with his movements and passes. There was also a touch of exuberance in his approach. He was sort of shelling out passes but none of these was overly creative. His attention-to-position was spot on and his willingness to drive into delicate areas was commendable. He did sit back to allow Ndidi venture more forward. His ball control was delicate and his short and long range passes to Iwobi and Zaidu particularly caught the eye. With Nigeria safely through to the next round, I suspect Eguavoen handing Nwakali a starting berth against Guinea Bissau.
3. Alex Iwobi (5.5/10) was anonymous shortly after coming on but then picked the pace as the match wore on. His through ball to Awoniyi into the 18 yard box caused the Sudanese a spot of bother. He operated closer to the touchline than Chukwueze. In short, the highlights of Iwobi’s game were his passes. There was a nice lay off to Aina, a decent driven pass to Aribo and smooth passes generally that helped the Super Eagles maintain their tempo. He didn’t do anything overly spectacular though he could have had an assist. Iwobi was expected to be a standout performer but nothing he did really elevated his status to extraordinary heights.
4. Ahmed Musa (5.5/10) tried to reinvent himself in the game and it almost worked. He was calm in possession and played with a cool head. He seemed to want to ‘sneak’ into dangerous areas to do damage. He looked assured and confident as he tried to a 1-2 routine with Moses Simon that almost worked but his neat back-heel was intercepted. Another 1-2 routine with Awoniyi was botched with Awoniyi’s weak first touch. He did locate Aina with one of his passes. I have a feeling Eguavoen will play him as a sort of impact sub in this tournament.
Augustine Eguavoen’s (7/10) formation left Nigeria struggling in midfield early in the match. The team’s routine didn’t always come off and the Super Eagles were more reactive than proactive very early on despite their early lead. The pattern of play was worrying initially and he didn’t seem to have an answer for his danger men being marked off the game. In fact the first 35 minutes almost transported me back to the groundhog-days of Rohr’s abysmal second term as Super Eagles coach. It was nice to see Eguavoen come out to gesture to the team to adjust their shape in the face of the challenges they faced.
The movement improved in the second half and the pacing picked up after Simon’s goal: Eguavoen surely said something to the team in half time. The quality of the set pieces improved and deliveries from the wingers also improved somewhat. The blending also became enhanced and his substitutions were timely and functional. The tone and complexion of the Super Eagles game was moderate whereas I expected it to be high. There are those who would bemoan the inclusion of Umar and the exclusion of Ejuke but Umar needs to find his way around before he can settle.
All in all the score line was great but the brand of football today was neither overly entertaining nor enthralling. But Eguavoen’s Eagles got the job done – if not in style – at least emphatically.
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