Super Eagles defender Leon Balogun was full of praises for his teammates after they displayed a ‘great spirit’ to record a come-from-behind 4-2 victory over Argentina in a pre-World Cup friendly in Krasnodar on Tuesday night.
The South American giants held a 2-0 lead before Nigeria replied with goals from Kelechi Iheanacho, Alex Iwobi (2) and debutant Brian Idowu and completed a turnaround for Gernot Rohr’s men at the 35,000 capacity stadium.
Balogun played for just over an hour in the game before he was replaced with Kenneth Omeruo and the centre back believes the nature of the victory makes it an amazing feat.
“It feels amazing, especially after coming back from 2-0 down, I think that’s amazing,” begun the Mainz 05 defender to www.aclsports.com
“Against a team like Argentina which I think had their best players with them. Messi wasn’t there but still there were great names.
“I think today, we’ve shown that it is not always about possessing the ball but what you do if you have the ball – that you play cleanly and effective, that’s exactly what we have done today,” he added.
With Balogun at the heart of Nigeria’s defence, the Super Eagles had only conceded once in the past twelve months asides penalties (2) but they went 2-0 down in the opening 35 minutes and the no-nonsense defender admitted the mood among them was not good at that point.
“The mood was not too good because from the very first moment, the Argentinians were pressing us high with three players so it was hard to build up and I think we didn’t have good positioning,” stated the former Darmstadt star.
“That’s what made it hard to build up the game from behind and that forced us into mistakes. I dribbled sometimes to find a better angle to play a pass into the midfield or we recover the ball and try to find a pass in the midfield but they had a great positioning and pressed is very hard,” he explained.
Team’s reaction at half time
Tuesday night was only the second time Nigeria will trail at half time under Gernot Rohr but the effect was made lighter by Kelechi Iheanacho’s goal moments before the interval.
Balogun underscores the importance of the Leicester City striker’s goal going into the break and indeed highlighted on the key point the team resolved to improve on in the second half.
“Iheanacho’s goal was always good for the spirit to go into half time,” he said.
“2-1 was crucial because we went into the locker room, we had some discussions, we had some disagreements about how to defend and how to press them and I think that’s part of football and part of a great team.
“We might even fight, not physically but verbally and find a solution then and we regulate it on the pitch and that was what we did.
“We decided not to press them so high anymore with Iwobi and Iheanacho so we can let them come a little bit and stay more compact so the gap between the different lines will not be big anymore.
“In the first half, they played every ball into the space we offered them but in the second half, we were able to keep the space tight and that’s how we recovered a lot of balls and buildup those deadly counter-attacks. I think that’s what made us win,” affirmed the Germany born star.
Always proud of the team
At 2-0 down, most people would have given up on any hopes of the side getting a result but the Super Eagles rebounded in a spectacular fashion.
Despite being one of the actors on the night, Balogun was impressed with the team spirit which he highlights was evident in their agreement to key tactical decisions in the team.
“Once again we see that we have a great team.
“William (Troost-Ekong) and I had an opinion on how to defend, the midfielders have a different opinion, even the coach has a different opinion but we took the best out of each opinion and built one.”
“Once again we showed amazing team spirit to come back against a team like Argentina from 2-0 and not many teams can say they have done that so I’m proud to be part of the team that did this,” he concluded.
Nigeria will know their opponents at the group stage of next summer’s World Cup when the draws are conducted on December 1 in Moscow.