Friday was a red letter day for Nigerian football. The 4-0 victory over Cameroon is a result nobody could have predicted, despite the 3-0 defeat they suffered when the two countries last met in a friendly game. A lot happened on the day, and here are the truths:
The Eagles played a perfect game. Now don’t confuse ‘excellent’ with ‘perfect’; The 1980 Nations Cup Final was an excellent game. The Nigeria versus Bulgaria at the 1994 World Cup was excellent. An excellent game was the first leg of the 2003 CAF Champions League Final, the year Enyimba won. An excellent game combines fantastic football with the right result; in a perfect game, effective football gives you a fantastic result; Enyimba were perfect in the 2nd leg of the 2003 Final, the Eagles were perfect on Friday.
Mikel is blossoming again, and the Eagles are benefitting. Mikel was awesome on the day. When we put up this analysis, the 2nd referred to him. Mikel played the right pass all day, he set Odion Ighalo up with a brilliant pass, and his goal is a result of amazing positioning and unusual presence of mind.
The central defensive pairing of Leon Balogun and Troost Ekong is the best Nigeria has had in years. And that is no disrespect to anybody. Balogun’s timing on tackles and Ekong’s positioning in defence were a joy to watch. We saw how one looked lost without the other against South Africa, and how assured both were against Cameroon, as they had been when played together in previous matches. Gernot Rohr has found a winning combination!
False 9’s may be ruling world football, but nothing beats a battling center forward. That was the truth Kingsley Eduwo highlighted against Benin Republic in the CHAN qualifier, and that was the same thing Ighalo showed with the way he shrugged off Adolf Teikeu on the way to opening the scoring. His strength on the ball caused the Cameroonian back line all sorts of problems.
A good defence line helps the goalkeeper settle. This is an oft-neglected or conveniently-forgotten truth in football. Some goalkeepers are prone to errors, and some are downright awful. But a solid defence will protect a team better than a world class goalkeeper. After all, we’ve seen great keepers’ ship soft goals. Daniel Akpeyi may have his issues, but the whole team was out of shape against South Africa. Ikechuckwu Ezenwa is a great goalkeeper, and it showed when a brilliant pair played in front of him!
Finally, it’s all about the team. The defence missed Balogun, the midfield missed Mikel and the attack was without Ighalo and Moses against Bafana Bafana. Two players based in China, and a player who has not played a game in the Bundesliga, pairing one that plays in Turkey were the keys to dismantling the African Champions. Individual talent is good, but those talents must fit into a team structure.
Whatever happens in Yaounde on Monday, the Eagles are going to the World Cup. Gernot Rohr is forging a team that will be feared across Africa, the Eagles are soaring again.