Nigeria 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. The players 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.