Assessing Nigeria's chances at the World Cup on the back of the win against Zambia
The Super Eagles of Nigeria became the first African nation to qualify for Russia 2018 World Cup after the 1-0 victory over Zambia on Saturday.
They left it late to secure victory in a largely unimpressive display against the Chipolopolo of Zambia. Substitute, Alex Iwobi was the saviour on the night after coming on to clinch the winner from a perfect cutback from Shehu Abdullahi.
Securing qualification gives Coach Gernot Rohr the chance to try new faces in the last match against Algeria- a dead rubber match as he looks to take a well-drilled side to Russia.
Goalkeeping and Defence
Ezenwa continued in goal on the back of impressive displays against Cameroon in both legs. He had nothing much to do for the most part of the game as he was very well covered by the continually growing partnership of Balogun and Ekong but was up to the task when eventually called upon.
The two were near perfect on the night responding to everything that came their way with aplomb. The two have continued to grow in confidence and the trust level is evidently building game by game.
Barring any injuries, they would be a feared partnership in 2018 World Cup. The fullback positions have been a major problem for Nigeria and although Shehu Abdullahi produced a man of the match performance, the same cannot be said of the ageing Elderson Echeijile.
Ola Aina looked promising in the role when he came on for Elderson but he was nothing more than a stop-gap in a role that he is not totally used to despite having played there before. Rohr will do well to find more players in the fullback roles so as to give the team the much-needed covering.
Zambians’ midfielders had a field day against the Super Eagles especially after the industrious Ogenyi Onazi suffered an injury blow in the first half. They controlled the match to effect in the first half having more of the possession but ultimately failing to make it count.
The Eagles were not compact enough and were lucky not to have been punished by good incisive play. Mikel Agu took time to get in tune with play and even had the luxury of collecting a yellow card in the first half.
It took time before the Porto man settled into the match, but when he finally did, his work rate was noticeable. It has become a norm for Super Eagles’ coaches to always field Captain Mikel in a more attacking role whenever he plays for the Eagles leaving the team short of a fine destroyer and creator that he is at the base of the midfield.
And though he always gives his best, he hasn’t been efficient enough. It puts more pressure on him and he needs to be unshackled. An attacking midfielder or a supporting striker could have done more damage on the day.
The attacking trident of Moses, Simon, and Ighalo were brilliant albeit ineffective on the night lacking the telepathic understanding that would have seen a flurry of goals. Ighalo held the ball up well many times but was short of services for the large chunk of the match.
Victor Moses, who is arguably Nigeria’s best player had a stop-start game and couldn’t exert himself totally on the game. Yet whenever he was on the ball, he got the Zambians on the back foot.
So was Moses Simon who was tactically disciplined enough to make his contribution felt. Iwobi’s introduction brought a new dimension to the attack and fittingly, he scored the winner to send Nigeria to the World Cup after starting their campaign away at Ndola.
Nigeria will do well to correct these lapses and find answers to the niggling issues if they are to compete with the best at next year’s Mundial. With many players yet to be unearthed at home and abroad and the presence of youngsters who are amongst the best in the world, they can surely achieve greatness in Russia.