With Adebayo Olodan
But for a ‘schoolboy error’ from goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa in the return leg against Cameroon, the Super Eagles would have qualified for the 2018 World Cup scheduled for Russia.
Nigeria would have made history as the first African country to qualify for the 2018 World Cup had the Eagles held on to their 1-0 lead.
Unlike the first match against the Indomitable Lions in Uyo, where the Eagles were in total control and translated, such dominance into goals, Coach Gernot Rohr’s team was outplayed by their host in Yaounde with a 60 per cent possession.
The Cameroonians could have taken all three points as they continued to exploit the weakness of Elderson Echiejile, in left-back position for the Eagles but thanks to their toothless attackers and good defending from the trio of Shehu Abdullahi, Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong.
Until the costly gaffe by Ezenwa, the IfeanyiUba shot stopper was imposing in goal and he could have avoided the penalty if he had chosen to stay back and allow his defenders to close down the Cameroonian attacker or if he had attempted to clear the ball with his legs. Again, I believe the defenders could have saved Ezenwa such stress if they had been alert to their duty by marking space and closing down the Cameroonian forward early enough.
In subsequent matches, anyone who will keep goal for the Eagles must communicate more with his defenders and defensive midfielders in order not to be caught off guard by those through balls.
While a point may not be a bad result in Yaounde, especially after that 4-0 bashing three days earlier, I however believe there is need for improvement ahead of the ties against Zambia in Uyo and the trip to Algiers.
Regardless of what happen in other matches of the Group, with 10 points from four matches, I believe the World Cup ticket is ours to lose. We already have the ticket to Russia in our kitty, as long as we ‘get the job done’ when Zambia visits Uyo, next month.
For me, Echiejile has no business in the starting line-up. Defensively, the former U-20 player was awful and he offered little threat when surging forward from his full-back position. It will be suicidal for Eagles to travel to Russia with a left-back as weak as Echiejile hence Rohr must comb Europe and other continents for better options. Kingsley Madu is one player that could fill that role comfortably but should the gaffer fail to get natural left-backs to replace the ageing and ineffective Echiejile, he will do well by trying out any of Ola Aina, Shehu Abdullahi, Michael Babatunde and John Ogu in that role.
Also, for the third match on the trot, I was surprised to see three defensive midfielders making the starting line-up of Rohr when he could have dropped one of Ogenyi Onazi and Mikel John Obi for a creative midfielder. Though the German opted to play Mikel in the offensive midfield position, I however believe the former Chelsea player is now more schooled in the defensive role. Throughout his 10 years stay at Stamford Bridge, Mikel operated as a defensive midfielder. He has continued in that role after his move to Asia and had even played on a few occasions as a central defender for his Chinese club.
For better results in succeeding matches, Rohr must not rely on Mikel as an offensive but a defensive midfielder. Even from a deep lying role, Mikel has overtime provided assists and defence splitting passes for attackers at club and national team levels.
Losers of transfer deadline
While some clubs were able to get their ‘ideal players’ on time in the summer transfer window, several clubs ended up disappointed while trying to make what could be described as panic buys on deadline day.
For FC Barcelona, they ended up failing to sign Phillipe Coutinho as a replacement for Neymar Jnr despite their protracted negotiation with Liverpool. The Spanish club blamed an outlandish transfer fee worth €200million for their failure to get the Brazilian on deadline day.
Also, in a desperate bid to replace the versatile Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, who left for Liverpool, Arsene Wenger reluctantly offered to splash the cash but his reported £92million bid for Monaco’s Thomas Lemar was rejected by the French club at the last minute of transfer deadline.
Although Arsenal’s London neighbour, Chelsea was able to add Danny Drinkwater to their squad, the team was however unsuccessful in the case of Ross Barkley as the Everton man was said to have opted out of the move because Antonio Conte’s mobile phone was switched off on deadline day.
After several futile attempts to force a move from Leicester City, Riyad Mahrez may have to wait till at least January to actualise any such dream. The player was said to have returned to England from Algeria with the hope that late interest from either Manchester Utd or Chelsea will sail through but neither deal happened till 12am on Friday.
Manchester City was however left the worst casualty after Arsenal pulled the plug on Alex Sanchez’s proposed £50million move to the Etihad Stadium. To facilitate the move, the Chilean striker was said to have left his national team’s camp to London and just as stores in Manchester already had the replica N0 17 shirt of the player displayed on their shelves, Arsenal opted out of the deal.