The Eagles went to Benin by sea, outplayed the Squirrels on land and soared in the sky. Unlike in 2020 when the Eagles did not win any of their matches, they kicked on 2021 on a winning note. With qualification for the 2022 AFCON already sure before kickoff due to Lesotho’s draw against Sierra Leone, the Eagles had to play for pride and they didn’t disappoint. Here are five lessons we learnt from the match.
Rohr’s Team Has A Spine
When everyone is fit and available, Gernot Rohr already has the spine of his team. Even if Rohr has been accused of upsetting the balance of the team too regularly at times, Rohr has some constant players that should always be in his starting XI and it was further demonstrated in Benin.
While the likes of Chidozie Awaziem, Kenneth Omeruo, Semi Ajayi and some others can always come in to do a good job in central defence, the oyinbo wall – William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun are still the best pair at centre-back. The pair produced a dominant display that further buttress this against the Squirrels.
With Wilfred Ndidi shielding the defence, the team plays with more authority and assuredness. Samuel Chukwu and Victor Osimhen are a menace in attack.
Some players can come in to add to the flesh and make the team thicker but the aforementioned players are the spine of the present team.
Rohr’s Tactical Switch
Gernot Rohr has been regularly accused of being too rigid but he was different on Saturday. Maybe due to Alex Iwobi’s absence or as was planned, the in-form Kelechi Iheanacho played behind Victor Osimhen in attack. It looked like a 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 at times, due to how Iheanacho floated between midfield and attack but it became an outright 4-4-2 when Paul Onuachu replaced Iheanacho.
Given the plethora of attacking options at Rohr’s disposal, it has often been suggested that Rohr should deploy a 4-4-2 system to have more presence in attack, especially when the Eagles are playing more on the ascendancy.
It paid off on Saturday, maybe Rohr will consider to be more pragmatic with his formations and set-up going forward.
A Case For and Against Iwuala
Anayo Iwuala has received lots of plaudits for his impressive 10 minutes cameo against the Squirrels. He showed promise but that may be as good as it gets depending on his next career moves. It is difficult to see him get more playing time when the regular players are fit and available. The Super Eagles are spoilt for options on the left hand side of attack. The likes of Samuel Kalu, Moses Simon, Ahmed Musa, sometimes Alex Iwobi plays there when they are available. With reports of Ademola Lookman also ready to play for Nigeria and the likes of Chidera Ejuke, Emmanuel Dennis and some others still on the fringes, Anayo has a lot of work on his hands.
As also noticed before the match and during the match, Anayo seems too star-strucked and does not feel at home in the team yet. He has to come out of his shell quick to prove he belongs in the group. As we have also seen with some home based players that have made it to the Super Eagles in the past, a move to an obscure league in search of needed greener pastures might just end his Super Eagles career before it takes off.
Onuachu Leading The Race
There has always been a battle for who will be the Super Eagles backup striker when Idion Ighalo was first choice and now that Osimhen is. There has been Simy Nwankwo, Paul Onuachu, Cyril Dessers and some others. The last time the Super Eagles played some friendly matches last year, Onuachu was on standby behind Dessers but got drafted into the team due to some withdrawals. He started and wasn’t impressive again.
He was also initially on the standby list for this match despite his impressive record in the Belgian league. Some withdrawals, he got in the team again and also got on the pitch and on the score sheet. With Sadiq Umar, Cyril Dessers, Josh Maja, Peter Olayinka, Taiwo Awoniyi and some others waiting on the wings, Onuachu has stolen a match on them with the winning goal against Benin.
The Super Eagles Still Need A Creative Hub
Joe Aribo has come into the team to be the ball-carrier in midfield and the owner of the number 10 jersey. He is a decent footballer and got off to a good note with two goals in his first two matches but the team can do with an improvement.
Especially in the first half when the Eagles had most of the ball, they comfortably passed it between the defenders and the deep midfielders as there was no one to make the brave incursions. The centre-backs resorted to switching it up to the flanks most of the times. While Aribo is good and a valuable addition to the team, the team needs a better ball user to play in that position, especially against better teams.
Written by Babatomiwa Ojo, @10qmedia on Twitter.