By Kayode Ogundare:
Not many people, pundits included, gave the Super Eagles a fighting chance in this game against the almighty ‘Argentina’ even without their talismanic captain Lionel Messi.
It was supposed to be a fight between the biblical David and Goliath, with the star-studded South Americans cast in the mould of the giant.
However, after 90 minutes, the boys from Nigeria won emphatically to announce that the trip to Russia 2018 World Cup will not be for sight-seeing.
Here are 10 takeaways from a reporter’s viewpoint….
1. Gernot Rohr’s 3-5-2 system is a radical departure from our 4-4-2 and 4-3-3 formations of the past. It will take a while to get the hang of it. Probably explains why the team struggled early on, especially at the back. Even Mikel admitted they found the system strange.
2. Daniel Akpeyi conceded two goals. I don’t have a problem with that. Even the best goalkeepers do. But his performance generally, composure and elementary errors are unforgivable at this level. Will take a miracle to see him on that flight to the World Cup.
3. Kelechi Iheanacho’s free-kick goal, almost at the end of the first half, was the catalyst that drew the Super Eagles back from the brink. Apart from the beauty of the goal, it brought hope and confidence that another goal was possible. It was sublime. Also the first time in a long while that the Super Eagles would be scoring directly from a set-piece. Very vital.
4. Mikel Obi has shown, once again, why we are blessed to have him playing in this form for Nigeria at this moment. He has learnt, with age, to conserve his energy and gets better at game management with each match. Nigerians can only pray he takes this form back to Russia for the World Cup. My MVP on the night.
5. The strength of this Super Eagles team is in the quality of players on the bench. We saw that again yesterday when Gernot Rohr’s six changes came on and showed that they were as good as the starting 11. Gernot Rohr will have selection headaches naming his final 23 for the World Cup due to competition but that’s a headache any coach would want to have.
6. I’ve always maintained that the current Super Eagles team is Africa’s most attack-minded side. You can only outscore them, you cannot stop them from scoring. Under Rohr, they have failed to score only once in 11 games so the best way to beat the Eagles is to make sure that if they score 8, you score 9. Simple.
7. We should give credit to the NFF for the success of the team now. If we held them responsible for the team’s failure in the past, it stands to reason that we should also compliment them. I’m aware of the arrangements they make for each game and preparations for the World Cup. They have also reportedly sorted World Cup bonus issues with the team in order to forestall the embarrasing incidents of the past. Kudos.
8. Iheanacho scored one and assisted two goals but I’m still not convinced he’s a number 9. I know the team is still evolving and Rohr is frantically working to find the best position for everybody but it is crystal clear that Iheanacho will thrive in a supporting role. Regardless of the formation, I think playing him in the hole behind the main striker will bring out the best in him. My opinion.
9. Two goals and a very energetic performance from Alexander Iwobi confirmed my belief, which I’ve stated openly, that this boy is the future of Nigerian football. A year ago, I said he will be Nigeria’s best player in the next three years but he’s already approaching that threshold now. Javier Mascherano will have nightmares thinking about that sumptous nutmeg through his legs for the fourth goal. Pure class.
10. Finally, we should not get carried away in the euphoria of that result. The Eagles are a team in transition and would get better with each passing game but we are NOT the finished article yet. We need to do this on a much more consistent bases in other to truly count as a credible threat in world football. Fortunately, Rorh and the players all know this and they are keeping their feet on the ground and not getting carried away by the result.