Eagles yet to convince in Egypt, but who really has?
You would have been forgiven for approaching this Nigeria v Cameroon game with scepticism. Neither side pulled up any trees in their three games AFCON 2019 group stage. Nigeria had two unconvincing 1-0 wins and a hapless defeat, while Cameroon played out a pair of soporific draws in their group. So, ahead of this Last 16 game in Alexandria, approaching this game with little expectations wouldn’t have been a bad way to go.
But if that was the notion you carried into the game, then you surely met a surprise. A remarkable game that moved from end-to-end, and had in it as much uncertainty as it did drama. A game that both teams score twice in three minutes to turn deficits into advantages and the Super Eagles ended up winning by the odd goal in five.
But when the thrill, breathlessness, and jubilation, on the Nigerian part, dies down, it should be worth noting how much this topsy turvy game laid bare Nigeria’s flaws. From the defensive mishaps – conceding two incredibly basic goals – a lack of foothold in midfield, and a rather misfiring attack (even if Odion Ighalo scored), Gernot Rohr’s look far from certain in games.
Even after Nigeria turned this around, and swung a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead, Nigerians had every right to be apprehensive. For this game, Rohr replaced Leon Balogun, who has been off the of late, with William Troost-Ekong. But that hardly brought any assuredness in defence and the presence of Daniel Akpeyi in goal didn’t either. Shaky in defence and with a heavily flawed goalkeeper has never been the basis for a successful tournament.
The sense remains that a more persuasive side will capitalise on the Eagles’ mishaps, but has there really been a certain side in this tournament? Hosts Egypt have looked far from convincing, neither have the Ivory Coast, or other big guns like Ghana or now-eliminated Cameroon. The only side that has a semblance of conviction in them so far is Algeria – who have a history of imploding when its crunch time. The other was Morocco, and despite their sense of certainty, they were eliminated by the Benin Republic in the first knockout game.
Perhaps Nigeria’s lethargy might work after all, and just stumbled them across the finish line in this tournament. But as this game must have shown, things can change so quickly, and whether or not the other teams are just as uncertain, there’s never really that much room to rectify or get away with lapses in knockout tournaments.
Nevertheless, the Eagles keep moving. They haven’t achieved full-flight yet, but they’re progressing. Just about enough can be more than enough, and it looks very much like it might be the case in this tournament.
Kunle Ajao63 Posts
Kunle Ajao is a football writer and columnist for spotkick. Having made a toss of himself trying to actually play the game, he knew better and got a pen instead of boots. Spends a bit of his time with the game, and thinks he's a bit like Sid Lowe. He's not