Friday, September 1, 2017

4-0, such an unexpected Gift........

Nigeria imposed a heavy 4-0 defeat on Cameroon in the most unexpected manner in Uyo today. No one expected such a wide margin of victory for either side. The margin, to be sure, never reflected the run of play. It was a World Cup qualifier alright and in such a critical game the team with the better chances usually wins and so was the case in Uyo.

Surprisingly, Nigeria was on its back foot early. Where one expected Nigeria to take control and Cameroon to rely on counters, it was the opposite that occurred. In the end, Cameroon would likely regret the effrontery of attacking Nigeria on Nigeria's home ground. The decision to take it to the Nigerians opened up spaces at the back that Nigeria repeatedly exploited. It is noteworthy that none of Nigeria's goals came from any sustained pressure on Cameroon. Instead, they came from break aways or in one case a set-piece after yet another break away.

Nigeria did overcome, to a large extent, the early striction that Cameroon imposed. But even then, Nigeria's control was in spurts. In the end, spurts or not, taking the three points is all that matters. It was an unforgettable result against a team that had been remarkably successful against Nigeria in crucial games. Uyo, the cursed ground and all, provided a location for celebration of a massive win.

Nigeria's story of this victory will revolve around multiple figures and frames. First, the return of captain Mikel Obi and Victor Moses who had both been absent in the disappointing loss to South Africa. Today, both of them were big. Each ended with a goal and assist before leaving the field under loud cheers. Second, the goalkeeping of Ikechukwu Ezenwa. Yes, a local-based player but his demonstration of comfort, competence, confidence, and control was a wide departure from the fidgeting Akpeyi that he replaced.

Now, the 2018 World Cup clearly beckons, a draw at least in Cameroon on Monday will make it much clearer but surely the gate to Russia is quickly closing in the face of Nigeria's opponents. This qualifier is becoming a one team race to the finish line. Below is how the player's rated:

Ikechukwu Ezenwa (1) -- 6.3 -- Confident goalkeeping most of the day. A positive departure from Akpeyi. Ezenwa's star is surely rising.

Abdullahi Shehu (12) --6.0 -- Shehu was average all day. It appeared that he was instructed to be far more disciplined defending than he usually does. Not much help in attacking. It was important because he helped curtail the rampaging Cameroonians who typically exploit wide areas.

Elderson Echiejile (3) -- 6.0 -- Started poorly on the left as Cameroon explored down his flank but he was improved after the early moments and was solid in the end.

William Ekong (5) -- 6.0 -- He had a few shaky moments on the ball which is usual for him but otherwise he had an average day at the office.

Leon Balogun (6) -- 7.0 -- This is unquestionably the leader of the defense. Stood tall and dominated his encounters with superb play all day. No other defender was even close on either side of the ball.

Ogenyi Onazi (17) -- 6.0 -- Average today as it was difficult having any serious grip in the midfield because of Cameroon's ball possession. However, he did his bit and ended with an assist.

Wilfred Ndidi (4) -- 6.1 -- He was the slightly better partner in defensive midfield but only slightly. It was a tough day in the midfield as I mentioned earlier for this unit.

Mikel Obi (10) -- 7.0 -- Mikel demonstrated why he is Nigeria's talisman. In spite of a tough midfield, he stood his ground and was clearly the best in the middle. He scored and provided an indelible assist on the opening goal. It was an assist that reminded many of the one he provided against Burkina Faso (to Emenike) at the 2013 AFCON.

Moses Simon (15) -- 6.0 -- Simon reduced the frills in his play for this game and provided an exquisite assist with a one-two play with Victor Moses.

Jude Ighalo (9) -- 6.3 -- Ighalo's strength was telling against Cameroon and he took his goal well,  powering against Ngadeu before left-footing the ball into the corner. It is telling that Cameroon's central defenders were both cautioned on fouls against Ighalo and those cautions may have helped soften the physical play against Nigerian players.

Victor Moses (11) -- 6.8 -- Victor Moses' runs on the defense were critical. He missed an early opportunity but his run was largely the decisive action that led to Nigeria's third goal, which he eventually tucked away. Moses has only lost three games in Nigeria's colors when he starts the game.

Kelechi Iheanacho (14) -- 6.2 -- Iheanacho entered the game in the second half and became one of the most involved players on the field. He then scored the fourth goal to underline his deadliness in front of goal.

Mikel Agu (21) -- 6.0 -- Agu was average in the game but did enough to help protect the huge lead.

Ahmed Musa (7) -- X -- Did not play enough to be rated.

Coaches -- 7.0 -- The decision to cut out the wide play of Cameroon in attack was very important as it put the lock on players like Bassagog. Furthermore, having faith on Ighalo to lead the attack was a brilliant move that, perhaps, won the game as Ighalo earned two fouls and two cautions to soften the physical Cameroon defense. Additionally, Rohr had the players that could quickly play the counter even though one wonders if he expected the game to go that way.