coasted to an easy 2-0 victory over Benin Republic in the final qualifying
round of the Africa Nations Championship in Kano on Saturday, and will take
their place among the qualifiers in Kenya early next year. We looked beyond the
game, and picked out reasons the Eagles will be one of the contenders in a tournament
Nigeria have never won.
The first factor is the team itself.
clearly had a chip on their shoulders, following constant reminders from both
officials and sections of the media, that they are not good enough. They showed
composure that was way better than the reported shambles of the first leg, and
played with a swagger usually seen in players with longer international
experience. One of the players that stood out in this tie, is Kingsley
Eduwo. The big Lobi Stars
striker showed ball skills and deft foot-work that is not usually found in big
strikers. He teased and dribbled his way through the Benin defence-line time
and again, and then showed his strength the way he took the second goal. Skills,
pace and power…he is one to look out for. Chima Akas' left foot showed us what is possible. Nigeria have not scored directly from a dead ball in
a long while. Ugwu Nwadiegwu of Rangers showed it is possible with his goals
from dead balls while at Enyimba, Akas gave us a reminder with a left footed
strike that came back off the upright in this game. He will still need to improve
on it though. If the coaches work with him, and it becomes a weapon, well… Abdullahi Alhassan 'Muazzam' and Rabiu Ali’s skills, something
Africa will find difficult to cope with.
And don’t let us forget Ifeanyi Ifeanyi. These guys ran the midfield like a
well-oiled machine, and can only grow in confidence the longer they play
together. And don’t let us forget; the media was awash with claims that these
were not the best players in the league! There was also Stephen Odey's off the ball runs. The youthful MFM striker rolled a defender, and would
have scored the opening goal, had Ali not "stolen" the shot at the
last minute. All through the game, he played well off the bigger Eduwo,
creating space for the midfielders with his off the ball runs. Some will argue that the team played
against ‘just’ Benin Republic, and we should not get carried away. I agree. But
the confidence and team work showed by the lads proved they not only knew they
were better, they trusted each other. That can only be good. We will know more
when they face West Africa in Ghana next month.