My three takeaways from the victory over South Africa last night as it is celebration time once again in Nigeria after the Super Eagles passed another difficult test at the Total AFCON2019 in Egypt.
Nigeria defeated usual customers, South Africa, 2-1 in the quarterfinals at the beautiful Cairo stadium to confirm their place in the semifinals on Wednesday.
Wonderkid, Samuel Chukuwueze, and Oyibo Wall member, William Troost-Ekong, scored the decisive goals but what did we take out of the enthralling encounter from a Nigerian perspective?
Gernot Rohr deserves respect
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Whether you agree with his style or decisions or not, the Franco-German manager of the Super Eagles, Gernot Rohr, has earned his coins and deserves respect.
Having failed to qualify for the previous two editions of the AFCON, under Rohr, not only did Nigeria make the 2019 party with a game to spare but has now achieved the very minimum target set for him by the average Nigerian and perhaps, his employers – a semifinal place.
It may have taken three games for Rohr to tactically outwit his opposite number, Stuart Baxter, but he has done so at the biggest of stages and for those calling for his head following that blip against Madagascar in the last group stage game, it’s time to tuck in your pride and take a back seat.
Awaziem has made the right-back his
From what started as a forced substitution in that opening game of the tournament against Burundi, when Shehu Abdullahi picked up an injury, to being an undisputed first choice at right-back, RB, Porto youngster, Chidozie Awaziem, has made the position his.
In the game against Burundi, it took Awaziem a while to find his feet with three successive fouls given away in dangerous areas by the young defender. But since then, he has been a haven of calmness and composure.
Against Bafana Bafana last night, the 21-year-old put in another excellent performance as he made sure Percy Tau had a difficult and unproductive evening.
Calm and calculated with decisions, Awaziem wowed with his positional awareness on and off the ball, and hardly put a foot wrong all game.
For Abdullahi, the dropped Ola Aina and a recuperating Tyronne Ebuehi, there is a real competition now and it has come from an unlikely place – a natural centre-back, Awaziem.
Musa and the final ball curse
Do not loud what I am about to say, while Samuel Chukwueze has deservedly taken the spotlight after repaying Rohr for his starting berth, Ahmed Musa was indeed Nigeria’s biggest threat with Super Eagles attack very much focused on the left, especially in the first half.
Rohr’s decision to use the wings proved a tactical masterclass as South Africa had no reply for Musa, who was a major coy, alongside Samu, on the right.
Bar his final balls, the 26-year-old Musa put in a worthy man of the match showing as the stand-in skipper was a thorn in the flesh of SA defenders who found his pace too much to handle.
While he constantly got the better of his marker(s) and into very good positions to wreak havoc with his blistering speed, Musa’s final balls let him down big time.
If the former Leicester City forward can indeed add a bit of end product to his pace and ability to beat a man, it will be difficult for anyone to stop Naija.
In sum, other worthy takeaways from a very good night for Nigerians include how Rohr found a way to protect the chuckling Daniel Akpeyi from SA players, who know his weaknesses too well with a more compact and narrow shape in midfield with the duo of Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo key.
Also, Chukwueze with his display last night has sealed his place in the starting XI for the remainder of the competition at least.
A wonderful day to be a Nigerian, but for our South African brothers and sisters, Tshabalala mpenza nkufusa.