By Kayode OGUNDARE @kaybaba99
After all said and done, the much-touted World Cup Qualifying game between Nigeria and Algeria has come and gone. After 90 minutes of pulsating non-stop action, the Super Eagles bruised and battered the Fennecs 3-1 to consolidate on leadership of Group B with six points, four more than Cameroun who had to force visiting Chipolopolo of Zambia to a 1-1 draw in Yaounde.
Victory for the Eagles was earned when Nigeria’s most in-form player Victor Moses turned up the style with two goals either side of captain Obi Mikel’s effort to render Nabil Bentaleb’s 67th minute effort valueless.
So what are the things we learnt from the game played at the magnificent Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, Uyo? Here are seven of the best…
Moses, in this form, is dangerous
Victor Moses has not played this well for the Super Eagles since the 2013 AFCON win in South Africa. He’s probably not played as much for Chelsea since he moved from Wigan. So everybody was hoping, praying even, that he would turn up the style for Nigeria in Uyo and he certainly did.
“I predict that one player that will make all the difference in this match is Victor Moses. He, in particular, has settled down as a fixture in the new improving Chelsea FC side. This has given him the confidence to raise his game to a very high level. He would be the greatest thorn in the heart of the Algerians.”– Former Green Eagles captain Segun Odegbami writing in Complete Sports last weekend.
And how prophetic Big Sheg turned out to be! Even if you take away his two goals, you’ll be hard-pressed to pick another player who worked harder or played with more vigour than the Chelsea man. As we have seen him do over and over for Chelsea this season, Moses simply exchanged the club’s blue shirt for the country’s green and continued his blazing form.
His two goals were also symbolic. The first one, after 25 minutes, helped settle Nigeria into the game and offered a glimmer of hope that the Eagles can go all the way. The second, perhaps more tellingly, came in time added at a time the Algerians were pushing hard for an equalizer. Moses’effort killed off any hope of the Fennecs leaving Uyo with a fraction of a point.
In this form, Moses is very very dangerous. Gernort Rorh and indeed all Nigerians will pray this form continues for a long time.
Midfield, not defence, is Super Eagles’ headache
In the buildup to this game, and probably as a fall-out of the opening group game in Ndola against Zambia, much has been said about the fragility of the Super Eagles defence and how it is the soft underbelly of the team from which it could be mortally wounded.
But, after 90 minutes against Algeria, relatively stronger opposition than Zambia, the defence didn’t do too badly. Though it conceded a goal, it will be unfair to hold the defenders up for blame for the goal by Bentaleb.
Rohr’s tactics are spot-on
Call it luck or happenstance but Gernot Rohr has got his tactics spot-on in his two World Cup qualifying games so far and that’s why his team sits top of the pile.
For all the noise and scare-mongering about the fearsome Algerians, Rohr successfully deployed a strategy which kept Riyad Mahrez, Islam Slimani, Yacine Brahimi and company from doing much damage.
The German pulled out Mikel and introduced a younger Wilfred Ndidi when he felt the captain was not pushing as hard as required against the rampaging Algerians who were pushing to get a second goal. Ndidi came on and helped take pressure off the defence by repelling the Algerian advance.
Whatever Rohr is doing, he should keep at it as it has fetched maximum points already.
Destiny in our hands
As the game in Uyo was progressing, I kept an eye and ear on Yaounde where the other teams in the group were slugging it out and when news filtered in that the game had ended in a stalemate, I was quick to tweet:
And they did bring it home. Now, as it stands, qualification is squarely in the hands of the players. With a four point cushion, Nigeria can inch closer towards Russia 2018 with four points from the double-header against Cameroun next year.
If they do this, regardless of what happens in the other header between Zambia and Algeria, the Eagles will be just three points away from the World Cup and that can be gotten from the penultimate game at home to Zambia.
We must not leave qualification hopes till the last game away to Algeria because it would be suicidal. Even if the Algerians are not in contention, don’t count on them to do Nigeria any favours. Remember the race to the 1994 World Cup and what the Fennecs did on that cold night in Tlemcen.
Our World Cup hopes are in our hands. Let’s keep it there.
Mikel’s invaluable to Nigeria….at least for now
He may be captain of Nigeria but John Mikel Obi has not kicked a ball in anger for Chelsea this season so it was understandable that some fans should be cynical about his form going into the crucial game against Algeria.
After 83 minutes before giving way to Wilfred Ndidi, the Chelsea man showed that he’s still needed in the scheme of things at least for now.
He quiet efficiently broke down the Algerian play and was almost everywhere ready to offer an helping hand.
He may have overdone this a bit because he got fagged out when the team needed him most and didn’t show too much game management when the Eagles were cruising. He could also have provided better defensive cover for the defence when under attack.
All said and done however, we still need Mikel inthis team. He’s not indispensable but he’s certainly invaluable.
Pool of young talents
Perhaps at no other time in the history of this country has Nigeria been blessed with the kind of abundance of talents at the disposal of the national team coaches. As a result of impressive showings at age-group competitions, Nigeria has gradually built up a reservoir of players who have been exposed to international competitions and some of whom play for or against some of the best players in the world on weekly bases.
Apart from John Obi Mikel, being the sole survivor of the U-20 class of 2005, Elderson Uwa Echiejile and Ideye Brown graduated from the Flying Eagles of 2007 while the bulk of the team are part of either the Golgen Eaglets or Flying Eagles team from 2009 till date.
What this means is that there’s an abundance of quality cover for each position and translates to the fact that the coaches are spoilt for choice. While this may make selecting the right combinations of players sometimes difficult, it is nonetheless a good ‘headache’ to have for the coach.
Etebo’s discipline, determination and industry is commendable
We (at least many Nigerians) first had a glimpse of what this pocket-sized battle-ship was capable of doing at the Rio 2016 Olympics when he scored four goals in just one match before injury cut short his participation in the competition.
Etebo returned to national team duties for the first time since August and it was as if he never left. He fitted seamlessly into the Super Eagles midfield. He brings discipline, tenacity and organisation to his sphere of influence.
And, by the way, his probing pass that found Mikel for the second goal was top-of-the range. Yes, he also has an eye for goal.
It’s never over until the referee say so
Sunday morning football managers drill it into your ears from when you first learn to kick the ball around that you should always play to the whistle but obviously the Algerians missed most of those classes. Or merely took things for granted.
Etebo’s precision pass to Mikel was taken for offside by the Algerian defence line and they ball-watched as the Nigerian captain, after hesitating, slipped the ball home.
Lesson learnt here is that the final arbiter is the referee and the game is stopped on his say-so, not the players’.
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