In the wake of Gernot Rohr’s men 4 – 0 drubbing of the African Champions at the Nest of Champions, Uyo courtesy of goals from Odion Ighalo, Skipper John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses and Leicester City New Signing Kelechi Iheanacho ; Nigeria has made gallant strides towards making it to the holy grail of World Football in Russia next year. Halftime NG takes a look at the key cusps from the game.
1. Eagles shift from Robust to Pragmatic.
From the Muda Lawal team that awed in the 1980s to the flamboyant Clemens Westerhof 1994 was known to play exciting attacking football – ready to spread the passes, shimmy the opponent, make deft flicks and leave the fans wanting more but the current Super Eagles have evolved into building from the rear, making it difficult for the antithesis to score and hitting them on the counter attacks – evident as three of the four goals came from defence cleaving fast breaks. Stats from the game showed Nigeria saw only 44% of the possession compared to Cameroon 56% but the result was a complete contrast – Super Eagles were more judicious and effective when they had the ball.
2. Mikel never been more important
The 30 year old Tianjin TEDA midfielder has had his ups (being an integral part of the squad that won the African Nations Cup in South Africa 2013) and nether (suspended from the team in 2007 under Berti Vogts for not reporting to camp for an independent check after claiming he had an injury) but Gernot Rohr has managed to build his team around the Skipper and it’s refreshing that the team have taken to his leadership on the pitch – vocal enough to get his teammates in position off the ball and making the team tick when they have the ball. His lobbed pass to Ighalo set the ball rolling before himself getting on the score sheet just before the break – a Captain’s performance.
3. The Ekong – Balogun Partnership
The two boulders who stand at a towering 6ft 3in look to be increasing in stature for the National team since they made their ‘partnership debut’ back in 2015. If Leon Balogun is the brute, uncompromising and aggressive one, Troost Ekong looks a more calmer influence who tends to read the game and intercept passes as Vincent Aboubakar and Moukandjo found out in a difficult manner. That sort of performance is encouraged especially in Yaounde on Monday – you could also suggest that Nigeria has a sturdy and consistent center back pair in another 3 years, all things being equal.
4. Ezenwa making a case for NPFL players.
With Daniel Akpeyi injured to the relief of most fans following his lugubrious and weak performance in the Nations Cup Qualifiers against South Africa in June, Ifeanyi Ubah’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa was given the nod to start in a game as crucial as this with everything to play for to the delight of most local league aficionados – he did not disappoint from the moment he grabbed the ball from Cameroon left-back Serge Leuko’s cross, he was brewing with confidence as the game wore on; peak of his performance was saving from Andre Anguissola’s effort which looked like was going in but Ezenwa did well to keep out. He generally was in charge of his box and had good communication with his defenders. Gernot Rohr should realize that the Nigerian Professional Football League, even with its own warts and all is not a pipsqueak.
5. Are Cameroon, a spent force?
After their AFCON win earlier this year which came as a surprise to many people including most Cameroonians and most football lovers, they haven’t really built on that success – you could say because the success came to them and they did not really deserve it. Well, since their, triumph in Gabon, they have drawn 1, lost 4 and managed just 2 victories. The indomitable lions debacle has ranged from unpaid allowances and poor player management to chiefly the crisis that has rocked the Football Association (FECAFOOT) because of the controversial elections that saw Tombo Sidiki elected in 2015 much to the displeasure of the country’s Olympic and Sports Committee. Secular arm, FIFA has subsequently tried to step in by appointing an interim committee but the gazump and gazunder nature of power play is having a melancholic effect on the pitch and it’s looking not to cease anytime soon.
**Pictures courtesy Nairaland, Daily post, ESPN FC, Guardian