Nigeria striker Victor Osimhen continued to impress on Sunday as his brace, along with a stoppage-time goal by Kelechi Iheanacho, saw the Super Eagles beat Sierra Leone 3-2 to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast in January.
It was a closer fight than the Super Eagles could have hoped for, especially given their history against the Lyon stars. Nigeria fans were given echoes of that nightmarish 4-1 to 4-4 collapse against the same opponent not so long ago.
They watched their team score twice in the first 30 minutes, only to give up two goals to tie the game at 2-2 with six minutes left. But there was no déjà vu as Jinking’s Zaido Sanusi set up Iheanacho to capitalize easily during injury time.
Having qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations before a final match, there are still some points for coach Jose Peseiro to take into consideration.
Osimhen is writing his way into the history books
With 10 shots on target, Nigeria could have been out of sight for Sierra Leone in the first half, and they could have mostly slipped to the top-flight golden boot for Osimhen.
The Napoli forward, with the prospect of a huge transfer looming this season, could have been forgiven for approaching the game with a play-it-safe mentality to avoid injury. But this situation is foreign to Osimhen.
He was a constant threat to the Sierra Leone defense quartet, putting them under the strain of his pressure and aggression. The two goals he helped himself to were just the reward for his efforts, but not only could he have grabbed a hat-trick, he could have finished with at least four assists if Samuel Chukwueze, Moses Simon and Kelechi Iheanacho had set a clear target. opportunities created for them.
In any case, the striker’s two goals moved him up to sixth, with Sunday Oirojuwa, on Nigeria’s top scorer list with 17 goals, overtaking Odion Ighalo and Ahmed Musa. It took him just 26 matches to get there, giving him the best goals to matches all-time (0.65) of any Nigerian striker.
Adele appears forcefully, but Uzoho is safe
One of the big questions on the match was how Hapoel Jerusalem goalkeeper Adebayo Adele will behave in the absence of regular goalkeeper Francis Uzuho.
Big mistakes meant both Ozuho and Madoka Okoye fell out of favor, and there has been clamor for a new goalkeeper ever since Okoye’s slide in the Africa Cup of Nations and Ozuho’s debacle in World Cup qualifying.
Adeleye has been touted as a potential option, especially as Okoye has lost playing time following his move to Watford. Sunday’s game was an opportunity to contest his claim to the game of musical chairs representing the Nigerian goalkeeping position.
While Adele passed the test, it’s hard to say he did so with flying colors. He was barely tested, and on one occasion he delivered a nervous blow that could have been disastrous. He cannot be blamed for any of Leone’s goals, although an argument can be made that he might have come in a little earlier to narrow the corner to the former.
However, this is the argument for the good, not the great. While he seemed quick on his feet, showed good centering and reflexes, there is still a question as to whether he did enough to make it anything but a vice. How will he deal with his first mistake, like Ozuho and Okoye?
One match is too small a sample size for a judge to make, but it’s safe to say that when Uzuho returns, he’ll have no problems getting back into the starting lineup.
Will they have a coach by the end of the month?
With Nigeria qualified for the Africa Cup of Nations, the question is who will be in charge of the final match of the series, and lead the Super Eagles to Côte d’Ivoire early next year?
Peseiro’s contract expires at the end of the month, and while he continues to insist that he wants to win the Nations Cup with Nigeria, the NFF is weak and choking on the weight of his $70,000 monthly wage.
It’s too bad his Nigerian assistants, including former internationals Finidi George and Ike Shorunmo, were asked to switch matches, so only one had to be paid. Even worse, Peseiro limited himself to calling up only 19 players from abroad for each team.
As of now, it’s unclear if the NFL will retain him, although sources say he may be asked to take a significant pay cut.
If he is let go, the FA is looking for local replacements, with Emmanuel Amunike and Fenedi at the forefront.
Scoring goals is a problem, despite the victories
It can be hard to please criticize a team that has a league leading 16 goals, +12 goal difference and boasts top scorer (Victor Osimhen) with 7 goals in all 12 groups of the playoff series.
Mali, Senegal and Zambia trailed by five goals with 11 each, with Mali +9 coming closest on goal difference. However, the Super Eagles’ shoot-to-goal ratio should be something of a concern going into the Africa Cup of Nations.
On Sunday, they had a total of 14 shots on goal, 10 of which came in the first half and scored three goals. Of that tally, seven were on target with at least four being clear chances to be cleared.
It is not a one time problem. In their home loss against Guinea-Bissau, they had 17 shots on goal, only three scored on goal and lost 0-1. In the reverse fixture in Guinea-Bissau, they amassed 20 tries with six on goal and scored one to win 1-0.
Only against Sao Tome and Principe did the lines fall in pleasant places for them with 27 tries, 17 on goal yielding 10 goals.
The stray shooting is something Peseiro will have to address… assuming he’s still in charge by January.
How do you solve a problem like Akpoguma?
Hoffenheim’s Kevin Akpoguma appeared late in the second half as a substitute for the terrific Bright Osai Samuel, looking sluggish, a yard behind the play, his best feature being a towering header.
Former coach Gernot Rohr moved to the mountains to get the defender to switch allegiance from Germany to Nigeria, but since then, the defender hasn’t added much of anything to the Super Eagles defence.
He frustrated playing at centre-back, looking just as out of reach when used at right-back, as he did in this match when he was brought up as a substitute. Even Rohr, who brought him in, has consistently left him out of teams or kept him on the bench.
It’s hard to say what to do with the cannons at this point. He’s had more than enough opportunity to prove his chops and isn’t exactly looking for anything near the solution the Eagles need.
Osayi-Samuel and Ola Aina (who continues to be ignored for whatever reason) are better options at right-back. And at centreback, even the worn-out options looked much better.