SUPER EAGLES SOAR HIGH IN CRUCIAL AFCON OPENER
To every patriotic Nigerian, yesterday was a memorable day as the momentous song of triumph erupted, filled the air and echoed through and through. This was courtesy of a resounding victory that the Super Eagles recorded over the Pharaohs of Egypt in a crucial group D match opener. The Eguavoen-led team sealed the duel with a lone-goal that was well defended till the last minute. Needless to say that there have been some improvements with the team since Rohr’s dismissal.
Without contradictions, series of doubts have assailed the possiblity of an impressive performance from the Super Eagles in AFCON ’22. First was the untimely sack of erstwhile coach Gernot Rohr, without proper plan for replacement. Speculations were already rife that the Super Eagles team will experience a setback and be distracted by the lack of a manager in substantive capacity.
Moreover, as much as we have a dynamic team on ground, facing the unpleasant reality of playing without big players like the Napoli’s Victor Osimhen who has again tested positive for covid-19, Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis and Al Shabab’s Odion Ighalo, both of who were held back by their respective clubs, was expected to be of negative impact on the team’s morale and the entire squad depth.
However, with their succesful outing at the Roumdé Adjia Stadium, Garoua, venue for Nigeria-Egypt match, those speculations have been proven otherwise. In a way that was entirely different from what was seen under Rohr; Super Eagles stepped up in their game and played with a vim and vigor that was absent during the reign of the Franco-german, who had a history of dressing room issues and a spell of difficult relationships with one or two of the Super Eagles squad.
Yesterday’s match started with the Nigerian side enjoying the bulk of early possession but Salah’s brilliant attempt in the fifth minute gave Egypt the first goal scoring opportunity, a danger which was averted by the Nigerian sweeper, Okoye. Moses Simon’s side netting in the 26th minute could have broken the deadlock but it went wide. However, the big moment came for Nigeria shortly before halftime, Kelechi Iheanacho’s screamer in the 28th minute gave Nigeria the lead and set the stage for an impressive campaign.
An outstanding performance it was for ‘senior man’ as he is fondly called. The Leicester forward is a man to watch out for in this tournament, he’s undoubtedly found the rhythm of his job and has had an impressive club form so far this season. Taiwo Awoniyi was also remarkable in the fixture, as he maintained a very solid link-up play with Iheanacho and made daring attempts at Egypt’s goal, thereby, giving the Egyptian man between the posts, El Shenawy, a tough time.
However, for the duo of Mo Salah and Samuel Chukwueze, it was a discreet and an underwhelming evening. Mo Salah seemed not to be able to pass the rearguard of Zaidu Sanusi, as the Porto defender diligently pocketed the Egyptian and consistently kept him at bay. Overall, it was a lacklustre performance for the Egyptians as they found it hard to break their inhibitions but were outplayed by the in-form Eguavoen boys.
For the Super Eagles, it was a grand opening and a triumphant entry into their AFCON campaign, as they stole the show against Carlos Quieroz’s team. Unarguably, there have been noticeable improvements and a palpable cohesion in the Nigerian Squad, but even at that, they still need to work more on their goal conversion rates, they need to make every chance count as it might just be the needed lifesaver in a highly competitive tournament like AFCON. We hope the Super Eagles maintain this tempo as we progress in the competition and if it happens that this impressive form continues, the NFF should consider changing the status of Augustine Eguavoen’s job from “interim” to “substantive”.
Nigeria sits atop Group D with a comfortable 3 points. Next up for the Super Eagles is a game against the bright stars of Sudan on Saturday as bottom-table Egypt will face Guinea-Bissau on the same day with little room for error after yesterday’s result.