Alex Iwobi opened scores for the Eagles on the day
By Fisayo Diaro
The
Super Eagles of Nigeria could not have wished for a better start to the
qualifying series for the next FIFA World Cup to be staged in Russia.
England-based
prodigies Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho scored the goals that put the Eagles
en route to a 2-1 win.
The
hard-earned victory against former African Champions Zambia away from home is
just about the best sort of start the Gernot Rohr-led Eagles could have had as
they hope to qualify for a first major tournament since the last World Cup in
Brazil.
In
between the four-year interval, Nigeria would have missed two successive Africa
Cup of Nations tournaments so the players, administrators and fans badly needed
a World Cup qualification from a very difficult group.
Nigerians
were obviously happy with the win as the players showed glimpses of what they
want to see in their team especially in the first half and the fans were also
cautious enough to express reservations about some certain issues that were
evident in the team.
Here
are few of my thoughts:
1. Preparation:
Tanzania game was not a dead-rubber after all

Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr

I
was a strong advocate of getting all the stars available for the clichéd
dead-rubber game against Tanzania in Uyo last month as I felt it would serve as
a good get-together for the lads before the World Cup qualifiers start. It
happened that way and it surely made the team better.
On
Sunday in Ndola, nine of the starters featured in the Uyo game with the
exception of Alex Iwobi who was injured at that time and Kenneth Omeruo who
replaced the injured Leon Balogun.
With
the players showing a renewed form of commitment to national duties (all
invited players had arrived camp before Tuesday night), it was natural that
such chemistry would be rewarded with success.
Carl Ikeme’s saves kept the Eagles in the game
2. Carl Ikeme is
here to stay
The
30-year old England-born shot stopper was Nigeria’s Man of the Match in Ndola
as he pulled off a string of crucial saves to condemn the Chipolopolo to a
first defeat at the Levy Mwanawasa stadium.
His
save to deny a Rainford Kalaba header kept the scores at 1-0, an important
point in the game and he was assured in the second period when the Eagles
defence seemed to wear down. He ensured that the Eagles remain unbeaten in his
seven games so far for Nigeria which has included five clean sheets.
3. Defending
should be a team responsibility
Wilfred Ndidi had a good game at Right Back
Much
has been made of Eagles’ defence on the day, especially the full back
positions. In what would always be a difficult day for the full backs – having
to deal with Tembo and Kalaba – it is only expected that they would always win
some of the battles and lose some given the isolation and spaces available for
the wingers to run into.
Apart
from a few errors here and there one of which led to the Zambian goal, I felt
the defence had too much to do as the defensive midfielder and wingers did not
help out as much as you would expect when the team was leading at the break.
I
however feel that Gernot Rohr’s decision to play Wilfried Ndidi as the right
back was a good one as he dealt with most of the aerial battles he faced and
would probably have done better on the ground if often supported by his
teammates.
Mikel Obi, indispensible? 
4. Indispensable
Mikel crying for articulate partners
The
Chelsea man once again proved his fitness and most especially his dependability
in the team with a trademark display in Ndola. He remained as calm as ever and
initiated the move that led to the second eventual winner.
Having
said that, he also did some important defensive duties which can be akin to
doing his partner’s job. It is pertinent that as the team leader, he makes
himself available in such cases but the number of times that his midfield
partner on the day, Ogenyi Onazi was out of position must be worrying for a
team that has lots of exuberant youngsters that can lose the ball at any time
upfront.
Anderson
Esiti came on immediately after the Zambian goal and added to the numbers in
the midfield but was also seen either out wide on the right flank or inside the
opponent’s box. The defensive midfield role requires some level of discipline,
one reason many have clamoured for Mikel to stay there but since the captain’s
role in linking with Iheanacho is equally important, a certain Azubuike Okechukwu
who impressed greatly at the Rio Olympics may be a perfect partner for Mikel
who obviously enjoyed their relationship in Rio.
Ideye, the perfect battling ram
5. Ideye – a
perfect battling ram for the amigos
Three
Under-21 attackers with enormous potentials (Iwobi, Iheanacho, Simon) started
the Zambia game for Nigeria and despite some difficulties faced in the nature
of the bumpy Ndola pitch, these youngsters often gave Super Eagles fans a taste
of the future with some sleek passing play.
However,
their success can be attributed to the unfancied role played by the lone man
upfront, Brown Ideye who expertly occupied the Zambian defence throughout the
70 minutes he spent on the pitch.
Ideye
was unfazed by the overrated physical attributes of Stoppila Sunzu as he
battled strongly with him whilst also providing timely link-up play with the
three amigos including the assist for the second goal.
It
remains to be seen what happens when Odion Ighalo returns for the next match
but going forward, Ideye’s role should be non-negotiable as it will bring the
best out of these youngsters with Isaac Success and the more experienced Victor
Moses hoping to return to the fold against Algeria.
Good
for the Olympiakos man, his club form has been pretty good as well this term as
he remains the top scorer in the Greek Super League.

In
all, it was a good win for the Super Eagles and indeed one that will further
boost their confidence level ahead of the November 12 clash with Algeria in
Nigeria. It is expected that a holistic review is done by the technical crew
without flattering themselves that the team is already perfect. There is room
for improvements but as seen on Sunday, the Super Eagles are on the path of
greatness again.

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