Nigeria’s Super Eagles beat their Benin Republic counterparts for the first time away from home on Saturday evening courtesy of an injury-time goal from Genk forward, Paul Onuachu.
Here are four key things I picked out from the game.
Paul Is Still Vital But The Wingers Must Do More
Watching Onuachu’s celebration after scoring the winner felt like some form of poetic justice after the uproar that greeted his exclusion from the initial players invited to play the AFCON qualifiers against Benin and Lesotho.
Despite describing him as a “very important player,” coach Gernot Rohr only named the Genk forward in his stand-by list.
The decision not to release Sadiq Umar by the Spanish side, Almeria, ensured Onuachu would have the opportunity to come off the bench to score the winner. And he did exactly that!
To prosecute tournaments, you need versatile players. Players who have qualities that you may not find in other team members.
Onuachu’s greatest weapon is his aerial threat and his injury-time goal against the Benin Republic showed what he can bring to the team.
However, I must add that in other to get the best out of him, then our wing play has to improve greatly.
Henry Onyekuru and Samuel Chukwueze were quite poor from the wings against yesterday.
As a matter of fact, it took Zaidu Sanusi’s run in the final minute of the first half to produce our best wing play – a fantastic cross that Onyekuru almost benefited from. Other than that, the Galatasaray attacker was largely ineffective till he was replaced in the 81st minute.
Chukwueze’s significant contribution was setting up Victor Osimhen in the second half before latching on to the rebound and blazing his shot wide from close range.
Asides from that, the Villarreal man was reduced to ineffective runs and 1-2 passes that hardly came off.
If Onuachu is to play to the best of his ability, then the Chukwuezes and Onyekurus of the Super Eagles must improve
Gernot Rohr Is Still A Master of Qualifiers
Since missing out on the 2015 and 2017 AFCON, the Super Eagles have qualified for all tournaments they have entered for – the 2018 World Cup and 2019 AFCON.
Both qualifications did not come without the usual nail-biting and permutations of some years past. And that was the case again on Saturday evening, as Rohr’s team sealed passage to next year’s AFCON before they stepped into the pitch in Benin Republic.
With Lesotho versus Sierra Leone game ending in a goalless draw, the Super Eagles booked their passage to Cameroun 2021 with two games to spare.
Gernot Rohr’s staunch defenders have always pushed this narrative as one of his biggest achievements.
While one can understand this sentiment, especially with the struggles the Super Eagles had after winning AFCON 2013, missing out on two consecutive editions of the tournament, the truth remains that qualifications with games to spare will no longer be enough.
At least, not for me!
The Super Eagles under Rohr must do better than the third-place finish at the last AFCON now that they have sealed a passage to Cameroun 2021.
Maduka Is Still Not The Best Choice For The Number 1 Spot
Vincent Enyeama’s sudden exit from the Super Eagles was accompanied by the long search for a capable replacement as many of us envisaged.
Fortunately for the country, Watford’s Carl Ikeme stepped into Enyeama’s shoes effectively. Sadly, illness robbed us of his talents. Since then, the Super Eagles have gone from home-based Ikechukwu Ezenwa to South Africa-based Daniel Akpeyi, as well as having Francis Uzoho in a brief spell.
The latest to occupy the number one position is Sparta Rotterdam’s Maduka Okoye.
While the Netherland-based keeper has had some decent performances in goal, you still do not get that feeling of assurance like you did when watching Ikeme in his first few Super Eagles games.
And in Saturday’s AFCON qualifier, there were signs that made you feel uneasy.
In the second half, Benin Republic almost took the lead due to the indecisiveness between himself and Ekong. Fortunately, Nigeria didn’t concede from that attack.
Later on, he was fortunate to go scot-free after blatantly picking up the ball out of his area. Referee Redouajen Jiyed somehow allowed that go and Nigeria survived yet again.
Okoye is young. He may as well go on to become a Super Eagles great like Enyeama and Peter Rufai before him. But at the moment, he hasn’t done enough to assure us he’s the undisputed man for the number 1 spot.
CAF’s Ineptitude: A Gift And A Curse
No, I am not talking about one of Jay-Z’s albums from the early 90s. I am talking about how as I write this (and all through this week), I have comfortably watched Europe’s World Cup qualifiers from the comfort of my room. But catching an AFCON qualifier in recent years has become more difficult than the proverbial camel passing through the eye of a needle.
I won’t bore you with all of the reasons watching AFCON qualifiers have become a nightmare. All I can say is that CAF’s new executive sure has to find a way to settle this curse.
But at least it gave us the gift of catching hilarious comments as we watched the game via streaming sites.
Nigerians sure know how to make the best out of terrible situations, and Saturday night was a very good example.
Paul Onauchu’s winner in injury time made it worth the while anyway.