By Qasim Elegbede:
YES, I have been one of the harshest critics of Super Eagles boss Stephen Keshi of recent. Therefore it’s only right to praise him when he did well, like he and his boys did in Pointe Noire on Saturday. Keshi led his team to a heartwarming 2-0 win away to Congo not only to avenge the tiny nation’s impudence of Match Day 1 when they surprisingly defeated us 3-2 in Calabar, but also to restore Nigeria firmly on the road to defend their crown next year in Equatorial Guinea.
Nigeria got the desired margin of victory against their hosts to topple them on head-to-head rule. And the implication is that should the two teams finish level on points, the Super Eagles will join South Africa as qualifiers from our group since the 2-0 victory posted in Pointe Noire gives us better head-to-head result (4-3 aggregate) against the Central Africans.
The little matter that remains now is to defeat already-qualified South Africa by any margin to make doubly certain of qualification. A draw could also be enough in as much as Congo do not win in Sudan. But victory must be the goal against RSA, and a good one at that if it could be managed, not only to make qualification doubly sure, but also to send a big message to the rest of the continent that the holders are back, stronger and will not relinquish their crown without a big fight.
But we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves as victory against boastful Bafana Bafana, who secured group’s top spot with a game to spare, will not come easy. Win on Wednesday, and I’d support any campaign to see Keshi lead the team to their title defence in Equatorial Guinea as if there really has to be any campaign at all. Remember, the Big Boss has the ears of the powers that be in today’s Nigeria and he wouldn’t need any such campaign to keep his job.
As you prepare for the final battle against buoyant South Africa, I say thanks to Keshi and his boys for restoring our national pride once again. But the job you did in Congo will only make sense if you complete the task against the invading “Banana Bananas.” Best of luck guys!
Matters Arising From Congo
HAVING congratulated the team and their handlers for job well done in Pointe Noire, I wish to draw attention to some of the things I noticed in the Super Eagles:
TEAM POSITIVES: The Super Eagles demonstrated remarkable maturity and character in Congo and refused to be provoked just as they stood firmly to repel all that the hosts threw at them. I was also impressed by their quick counter attacks especially from defending set-pieces. On several occasions in Pointe Noire the Super Eagles turned defence into attack in a twinkle of an eye.
Their searing pace and raw power often proved too much for the retreating hosts. The only let down was Nigeria’s inability to finish those counters. I believe that will come with time. But at least the team caused opponents problems with pace and power and switched quickly from defence into attack.
Another positive was the desire shown by many members of the team. I was pleased to see the boys argue amongst themselves after having thwarted dangerous situations. Mikel Obi and Godfrey Oboabona berated Ogenyi Onazi on different occasions for the midfielder’s errant displays. One of the problems of the recent Super.
Eagles was lack of leadership. Keshi’s team appear to have leaders in every department.
TEAM’S NEGATIVES: The Super Eagles started slowly and could have conceded a goal as early as two minutes despite taking the kick-off! The penchant to stroke the ball among defenders right from kick-off is an age long malaise with the Super Eagles and I felt let down on Saturday that a team which needed to win by two clear goals didn’t go straight for the jugular when they had the advantage of starting the match.
The team’s defence in Pointe Noire looked wobbly and fragile especially in the first half when Congo toyed with and tortured our backline at will. But for the heroics of captain Vincent Enyeama in goal and Azubuike Egwueke, we might have been saying a different story today. A more decent team than Congo would have punished us severely.
I also noticed a chasm between attack and defence – the midfield often went missing – as we failed to win most second balls at the edge of Congo’s penalty box. This is a problem that could result from tiredness or lack of good team chemistry. But as we displayed this problem throughout the match, I’d think team chemistry was the missing ingredient.
Vincent ENYEAMA: Had one of his best days in Super Eagles shirt and was one of the reasons Nigeria have stormed back into contention in these qualifiers. Saved a crucial penalty and showed once more why many regard him as Africa’s finest goalkeeper of the current era.
Efe AMBROSE: Made to suffer by Congo’s danger men. Was easily Nigeria’s weakest link and lack of match practice was brutally, if ultimately not fatally, exposed in Pointe Noire. We mustn’t forget that Efe is naturally a centre-half who is helping the team as an emergency right full back. He compounded his error-strewn day by embarking on needless dribbling runs from dangerous places which often led to him being dispossessed by the opponents.
He needs to work seriously on his mental attitude just as Nigeria need to intensify the search for a natural right full back.
Azubuike EGWUEKE: One of Nigeria’s best players in Congo. Bloodied but undeterred and covered very well for his more experienced partner Oboabona. A true Trojan who may soon claim a permanent spot at the heart of Super Eagles defence. A true hero of Pointe Noire.
Godfrey OBOABONA: Put himself about as usual. Was unfortunate to have been adjudged to give a penalty away in the second half. However, remained some yards behind that rock solid defender who helped Nigeria to a third Nations Cup glory in SA.
Juwon OSHANIWA: Hardworking full back who may continue to lock “senior player” Elderson Echiejile out of the team. More solid defensively, though he could improve on his attacking forays and crosses.
Hope AKPAN: Didn’t stamp his authority in the heart of Eagles midfield and had to be replaced early in the second half after injuring his arm.
Ogenyi ONAZI: The main anchor in the engine room in Pointe Noire failed abysmally on his task and had to be tongue-lashed by team-mates a couple of times in the game. Onazi failed to complete 40 percent of his passes which further compounded Super Eagles worries in Congo. Could be dropped in the final qualifier on Wednesday if the coaches have confidence in the alternatives.
John OBI MIKEL: Nigeria’s vice captain had one of his best outings in the national colours and led both physically and mentally. Played in the hole behind the point man where his incisive pass opened the hosts up in the build-up to Emenike’s penalty.
Ahmed MUSA: Had a rather quiet afternoon and bizarrely often ran himself into touch. A far cry from his Match Day 4 heroics.
Emmanuel EMENIKE: Continued to struggle for goals. Needlessly vented his frustrations on match officials in a litany of complaints and whining. Won the penalty that was converted by Uche. Otherwise, he was almost anonymous.
Ikechukwu UCHE: The returnee hitman oozed class and converted Nigeria’s penalty with aplomb. I like the way IK held play for team-mates and his runs off the ball were superb. A truly triumphant return to the fold by an in-form striker.
Aaron SAMUEL: Nigeria’s red hot supersub who tormented Congo with his pace, power and trickery. His direct play caused the hosts plenty of wahala. Reminded me of Da Bull in his hey days though Aaron is less skillful than Daniel Amokachi. Capped a brilliant cameo with that well taken insurance goal, his second in as many games. A real threat to opponents and Emenike’s spot in the team. A combination of Aaron and an inform Emenike or Uche will destroy most defences in the world. I’d be interested to see how Keshi unleashes them on South Africa.
Sone ALUKO: Assisted the second goal and helped change Eagles dynamics when introduced for Akpan in the second half.
Gbolahan SALAMI: Only the Big Boss can explain why he continues to get into the Super Eagles ahead of better players like Emem Udoh and Mfon Udoh who painted the domestic league with goals. I’d say like Gbolahan like Chigozie Agbim, an incompetent goalkeeper forced on Nigerians by current Super Eagles selectors.
Stephen KESHI: The Big Boss deserved most of the criticisms he got in the first half of these qualifiers. But he came tops in Pointe Noire especially with his subs who helped turn the match in Nigeria’s favour. Keshi will also get the full credit for discovering a new Da Bull in Aaron Samuel who is giving him a welcome selection headache from his recent performances.
Looking at the Super Eagles in Pointe Noire, I’m filled with confidence that we’re back on a very good road of recovery. I’d love us to continue that road by disposing of SA on Wednesday. May God be with us. Amen.