Monday, September 4, 2017

Ultimately, Nigeria achieves its goal after draw in Yaounde....

Though this was a winnable World Cup qualifier in Yaounde but the 1-1 draw is a result that Nigeria would take happily. After all, Nigeria achieved its ultimate goal of taking at least four of six points in the two World Cup qualifiers against the African champions. In many ways, Nigeria's performance today was excellent. It was disciplined from the opening minute to the last, just as it was in Uyo. It never really appeared that Cameroon could find space around the Nigerian defense and it is telling that Cameroon's only goal came from the penalty spot after Ezenwa had made contact with a Cameroon player deep in the box.

Nigeria played a very disciplined game with nine players constantly in position behind the ball and in a structural shape that consistently frustrated Cameroon as Cameroon attempted to play through the cauldron that channeled the free ball to defenders. It may have been Nigeria's most disciplined display under Rohr. Further, what was exhibited was Rohr's willingness to block out Cameroon's wide play by always sending an extra player in a team defense that was befuddling to the opponents. But the difference between today's game and Uyo was Cameroon curtailing its reckless abandon when going into attack. It certainly curtailed Nigeria's opportunity for quick counters. However, in spite of Cameroon's adjustment, Nigeria had the better opportunities in the opening half and it appeared that Nigeria was certainly on its way to winning again.

There will be disputes over Nigeria's goal pertaining to whether Ighalo was on or offsides but it was not more than Nigeria deserved at that point in the game. It well could have been two goals shortly afterwards when Ighalo rounded up a defender only to shoot the ball too high from inside the box. The second half was all about Nigeria attempting to hold on to its slim lead except that there were still opportunities to widen the margin. Victor Moses, again a constant threat to Cameroon, could have scored twice in the half. First, with a curving free-kick that was very deceptive as Ondoa was expecting a cross. Then a few minutes later, Moses craftily controlled the ball, as three defenders hung around him, and in the end he carefully aimed for the top right corner only to watch the ball clip the bar with Ondoa no where near to contesting the shot.

Cameroon earned a penalty kick that it had sought throughout the game when Ezenwa clashed with an attacker who was not quite in any position to score as the ball drifted high and off the left. Aboubakar converted and it was the tonic to a dispirited Cameroon finally lifting its play. Nigeria was then fortunate when Ezenwa stretched to parry a goal bound shot struck from inside the box. He was alert to also save the rebound as Cameroon's Fai cluttered into him. It was the last real chance for Cameroon.

Here is how I rate the players.

Ike Ezenwa (1) - 6.5 - Ezenwa did very well on high balls and making saves when called upon. This guy is much better than Akpeyi that he had replaced.

Shehu Abdullahi (12) -- 6.2 -- Another disciplined display, shutting down Cameroon's wide play on the right.

Elderson Echiejile (3) -- 6.0 -- Excellent first half but faced some really stiff test when Bassagog was put into the game. Over all, he had a credible display until late.

Leon Balogun (6) -- 6.5 -- Another excellent play and overall leadership in the middle for Balogun. Leon is certainly growing into the top defender for Nigeria. He was rarely beaten in the air and seems to find that last stretch to take the ball from attackers.

William Ekong (5) -- 6.2 -- William had a strong day in defense as well. It is really hard to pick out a player who did not step up today along that defensive line.

Mikel Obi (10) -- 6.5 -- Mikel Obi clearly determines the play of this team. In the two games against Cameroon, he has played excellently in the middle weaving the team into a strong unit.

Ogenyi Onazi (17) -- 6.2 -- Onazi was very strong in the middle, winning several balls. However, he was playing on edge with some questionable tackles. Eventually, he picked up a caution that appeared inevitable in this game.

Wilfred Ndidi (4) -- 6.1 -- Ndidi was steady in this game and won his share of the ball. However, his play never stood out on a day the midfield did its bit.

Victor Moses (11) -- 7.5 -- Victor Moses was Nigeria's most dangerous player going forward and his set pieces may not have led to a goal but they were dangerous. He almost put one away in the second half. Nigeria has only lost three games that Victor Moses started and that has to tell you something.

Odion Ighalo (9) -- 6.3 -- Though Ighalo was largely alone upfront chasing the ball all day, he had another good game against Cameroon. This is certainly Nigeria's best option, thus far, with his back towards goal and holding up play. In this game, he was dangerous all through the opening half but faded in the second.

Moses Simon (15) -- 6.2 -- Who says that Simon does not defend? Simon was very focused on his midfield duty today when Nigeria had the ball and when it was time for ball recovery. Then he took his opportunity to score very well with a snap shot.

Mikel Agu (21) -- 6.0 -- Mikel Agu is gradually getting comfortable but his display was average doing the simply things. He gets into trouble trying to do more as was shown in one play about five minutes after he entered the game. Then he miscued one pass that would have set Victor Moses free to the left.

Oghenekaro Etebo (8) -- X -- Not rated. Too few minutes.

Kelechi Iheanacho (14) -- X -- Not rated. Few minutes.

Coach Gernot Rohr -- 8.0 -- Rohr has my top rating for this game. He came to this game, played the game perfectly and earned a needed result. Rohr had the team playing with excellent discipline and for the second game in a row he nullified Cameroon's wide play.