… ‘It’s a Step to Becoming Champions
By Ben Nwachukwu, Abuja
Football loving Nigerians have continued to celebrate the emergence of the senior national team; Super Eagles to become the first to make it to the knockout rounds of the on-going 32nd Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt on Wednesday evening, as highly improved central defender Kenneth Omeruo’s well-tucked in header from a Moses Simon’s corner kick earned the maximum three points against Guinea at the Alexandria Stadium.
The fans who claimed that the Super Eagles below average first half almost caused them heart attack noted that it gave way to a lively second half, during which enterprising Odion Ighalo, who earned all the three points for Nigeria in the opening game after coming on as a substitute against Burundi on Saturday, had an ample opportunity to score thwarted by Guinean defenders that checkmated Ahmed Musa’s pass from an instantaneous counter-attack.
They lamented that though the Super Eagles have made history by becoming the first country to zoom into the Round of 16, the team’s attack with Alex Iwobi, Odion Ighalo, Chukwueze, Simon, Ahmed Musa et al still have more work to do if they must return with the prized trophy next month.
The Super Eagles played 27 minutes without a shot either on target or off target while the Syli Nationale had three shots on target to their credit before Iwobi’s forced clever one was saved by Guinea’s goalkeeper Ibrahim Kone after Moses Simon had shot wide.
With this result it is the first time since the AFCON finals (also staged in Egypt), Nigeria won their two matches of the finals.
At the beginning, the Syli Nationale were more business-like, working hard in search of early goal which eventually eluded them even with three shots on target including one that distressed Daniel Akpeyi.
Coach Gernot Rohr benched Captain Mikel Obi and William Ekong and Chukwueze for Simon while Ighalo started in place of Paul Onuachu however the Super Eagles did not look penetratingly creative in the first half hour and it was principally the union of Kenneth Omeruo, Leon Balogun, Chidozie Awaziem and Ola Aina at the rear that guaranteed a barren score line at the break.
Iwobi who was described by the commentator as the most enterprising player on Nigeria’s side had movement and venture but gave the ball away in turn and Ighalo lamented after side-netting with Musa waiting eagerly to raze the net from close range in the 32nd minute that he did not look up. Earlier, he had, with a poor first touch, rummaged a good pass from wing wizard Musa after the deputy Captain’s run down the left, and Iwobi also wasted another excellent pass by the quick winger.
Only a draw from their last match of the group phase against Madagascar on Sunday will see the Super Eagles to finish top of the group and remain in Alexandria for their Round of 16 fixture.