The Super Eagles of Nigeria this afternoon recorded their second victory against Guinea in group B of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt to become the first team to book their place in the knockout round.
Here are some thoughts on the match:
1. Composed performance but not convincing
Nigeria is one of the few nations expected to go far in this tournament, even the thoughts of winning the continental crown cannot be considered vile with the ‘quality’ of players in the team.
Coach Gernot Rhor’s young squad must have gathered enough experience during last summers world cup in Russia, understanding tempo of games and waiting for their opportunity to strike.
For a second consecutive match, Nigeria had to be patience, laboured before getting a goal. Another 1 nil victory ensured they are through to the next round as it was expected, but not a great performance. It was a much improved and matured display compared to the one against Burundi, the Super Eagles managed the game well, keeping the Guineans at bare and Daniel Akpeyi having very little to do.
A team of Nigeria’s quality must try to control games and dictate the pace for the opponent. Two clean sheets, three points in two matches bodes well for Nigeria but Nigerians should see a better outing against Madagascar.
2. Creating chances still a big issue
Gernot Rhor made four changes to the starting 11 that beat Burundi, bringing Leon Balogun to replace William Troost-Ekong, Chidozie Awaziem in place of the injured Abdullahi Shehu, Moses Simon for Samuel Chukwueze and Ahmed Musa for John Obi Mikel.
The most telling of the changes saw Alex Iwobi given a shout in the No 10 role in place of Mikel. It didn’t yield much fruits in terms chances created but Iwobi drove the team forward whenever opportunity presented itself. The presence of Naby Keita and Amadou Diawara ensured the battle for supremacy did not allow the Arsenal forward to control the game as much as he would have liked.
But it was much more better than having a declining Mikel slowing the pace. Iwobi also offered goal treat as he forced Ibrahim Kone to a superb save with a curling drive from outside the box. The Guinean goalkeeper was again called into action with another effort from Iwobi before he was withdrawn late in the game.
3. Quality Options on the bench
Great teams always have quality players on the field and on the bench. In the match against Burundi, it was substitute, Idion Ighalo who scored the winning goal, outlining the importance of having quality on the bench.
Guinea defender, Ernest Seka had a great game, man-marking Ighalo. It was a deliberate game plan by the Guineans, eliminating Nigeria’s goal threat to great effect.
Samuel Chukwueze was dazzling in the first match but found himself on the substitute bench. I thought the Villareal man did enough to keep his place in the starting eleven, but Rhor decided to replace the youngster with Moses Simon on the right flank.
Paul Onuachu was a handful for the Burundians but as expected, Ighalo started after his cameo won the last match. With Paul Onuachu, the Eagles have a target man with aerial threat, who is also a proven goalscorer with Midjilland in Denmark. It was also heartwarming to see Samuel Kalu made an appearance after a cadiovascular problem in the training ground last week.
Leon Balogun who endured a torrid first season in England with Brighton also started in place of William Troost-Ekong, he looked sharp and confident for a man who had played limited football throughout the course of last season. The experience of Mikel Obi on the bench is very crucial in this tournament as it progresses but it is a welcome development to have players on the bench who can change the fortune of the game when it goes tough.
A strong bench gives the coach the assurance of a plan B and as already demonstrated, injuries and suspensions will definitely set in, but the overall quality in the team ensure no player will really be missed if injured or suspended.