By ImoOwo Mbede
Determination. Belief. Relentlessness.
These were the hallmarks of a gallant and domineering performance by the Super Eagles during their annihilation of African Champions, Cameroun, during the 2018 World Cup qualifier in Uyo. The Super Eagles’ first loss at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium almost three months ago, apparently served as a wakeup call which stirred Coach Gernot Rohr’s team to one of its best performances in recent times.
In the weeks building up to this match, that home defeat and the loss of goalkeeper Carl Ikeme to illness had cast a shadow on the team, creating a feeling of uncertainty and low expectations. However, the Eagles rose commendably to the occasion to stay in pole position to hoist the country’s flag in Russia next year.
As predicted, the return of the experienced trio of Captain John Mikel Obi, Leon Balogun and Victor Moses provided the required spark which, along with the resultant tinkering of the team, propelled the team to full flight. In a disciplined execution of a near-perfect game plan, Balogun led the back like a Trojan, ably supported by William Ekong. Abdullahi Shehu surprisingly coped well with the strength and pace of the Camerounians, though Echiejile’s imminent wane remains conspicuous, and worrisome too.
Onazi had a better game than he did against the South Africans, probably due to Mikel’s presence – which brought stability to the team. Moses Simon justified his starting place and, along with Victor Moses, gave the Camerounians a torrid time. Odion Ighalo seems to have rediscovered his form and, knowing he had to prove himself, put out an impressive performance before he was taken off seemingly injured.
Ikechukwu Ezenwa gave a very good account of himself and may very well have sealed a permanent place in the team. Coach Rohr got his selection – at least most of it – and team tactics spot on. The counter-attacking plot worked perfectly against a camerounian side who, confident of an away victory, came out to play.
Congratulations to the team and management for the mental strength to come back from the morale-deflating defeat to South Africa. This victory will surely be as much of a morale booster as it will highlight the capability of the current squad when the players give their best. It is pertinent to note however, that it is still very much a team in transition and so it is not yet time for complacency. There remains an urgent need for a competent option at left back as well as a creative midfielder to stand in for captain Mikel.
There is also the need for tactical flexibility. Coach Rohr’s seems to be rooted to a 4-3-3 formation which may not always work against every team. The team needs to be tactically flexible so as to accommodate the inevitable non-availability of certain players at certain times.
The Super Eagles has a potentially difficult reverse fixture away in two days, and two other matches away to Algeria and home to Zambia thereafter. The Eagles also has its fate in its hands, with one more win guaranteeing a ticket to Russia 2018.