It was only one match, but it moved Nigeria several notches up the rung of victory at AFCON 2023.
The match against Cote D’Ivoire confirmed the often-held notion that a potential Champion can be identified when a team is able to win a crucial match even when it does not play brilliantly. That’s what happened on Thursday night. The Super Eagles played with the attitude of potential champions – winning a most difficult match against the host team by deploying with a very disciplined style of play, and, with a bit of luck, curtailed an anxious and determined Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire.
The Super Eagles definitely earned their victory! What most people have refused to consider here is to credit Jose Paseiro for any part of that victory. The man has gone too far down the bad books of Nigerians that more of the credit seems to be going to a player – William Troost-Ekong. He was the ‘coach’ on the field of play that the team lacked outside it.
Troost – A new Leader of the Super Eagles?
A new leader of the Super Eagles may be finally emerging from the shadows. His individual performance on this night reminded Nigerians about ‘Gentle Giant’ Uche Okechukwu, ‘Chairman‘ Christian Chukwu, and ‘Big Boss’ Stephen Keshi. The 3 were excellent Liberos, organisers of their defense from the centre-half position, clearing all loose balls that resulted from the close-marking and hard-tackling of their co-defenders, and taking on the responsibility of unofficially ‘coaching’ the team ON the field of play.
William Troost-Ekong may have joined that special class when he stepped forward and took responsibility to nail the Ivoriens by taking a very ‘dangerous’ penalty kick that was heavily laden with pressure and tension! It was a very thin line to cross for him – between becoming a hero and new leader of the team, or becoming a ‘villain’ for the rest of his career (should he miss the kick).
Troost-Ekong’s individual performance made a big difference in that match. He was a deserving ‘Man of the Match’. He played with his heart and head, stabilising the defense, in particular, and the rest of the team, generally.
Uncharacteristically, the Nigerian defense line was cool, calm, confident, well-organised and impregnable. Thanks to Captain Ekong!
Are the Super Eagles back to their best?
No, not yet. It is a team in process, coming up slowly but steadily.
Should the Eagles win the last match against Guinea Bissau very well, they will remain in Abidjan to play their round-of-16 match. That will be a huge advantage for them that they can use as a launch pad to get to the top of the pyramid.
Against all the odds, the Super Eagles looked better and more organised in their defensive play. When Osimhen, somehow eventually finds his feet and his rhythm, the team will become better and stronger. Stopping them will now become a huge mountain to climb for any team at AFCON 2023.
Ghana and Egypt – Drama on the streets
After the Nigerian match, Ghanaians came out to the streets in droves, heading to viewing centres and bars that were still open, to watch their match with Egypt. It was a pulsating, exciting, entertaining, and dramatic encounter, from start to finish.
Ghanaians, next-door neighbours to Ivoriens, flooded Ivory Coast in cars and buses. We saw many of them at the Elubor border post. Most hotel rooms downtown were taken up by them.
I am just wondering: what would happen should the Ghanaians exit the championship at this stage? The hotels will become full of empty rooms, I guess!
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