Friday night was celebrated in its full glamour as Nigerians; a set of people who specially value that time of the week to relieve their stress with the clichéd ‘something light’ got more reasons to celebrate.
For a team that underwhelmed in the eyes of many in their opening World Cup group game against Croatia the weekend before, the Super Eagles (who themselves felt the anger of the fans on social media) knew only one thing could worm them back into Nigerians’ hearts; a victory of any kind.
They duly obliged, and of course victory came in any form. A tepid first half performance rapidly evaporated by a blithering second half display. Ahmed Musa scoring twice to silence the vociferous Icelandic supporters inside the stadium and set the stage for party nights from St Petersburg to Lagos, Nigeria.
— ?? Super Eagles (@NGSuperEagles) June 22, 2018
As he has always done whenever he is pushed to the wall, Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr once again called on some of his experienced stars to bail him out of an impending ‘jail’ term.
Flashback to June 2017 when Rohr’s exuberant young troops wandered like a herd of cattle without Cowherd against South Africa in a Nations Cup qualifiers in Uyo. Nigeria’s next games would be an important World Cup double-header against Cameroon two months later in which Rohr recalled some of his tested and experienced stars, Mikel John Obi, Odion Ighalo and Victor Moses.
The results are a crucial part of what brought Nigeria to Russia.
The Franco-German’s tactical alteration from 4-2-3-1 to 3-5-2 might have dominated discussions after Nigeria’s victory in Volgograd but the impact of his experienced stars can not be underestimated.
In his alteration, Rohr added the only defender in the Nigerian team to have featured in a World Cup game; Kenneth Omeruo to the existing centre back pair of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong to form the back three.
The decision to have flamboyant star Victor Moses and captain Mikel in withdrawn roles further ensured there was more experience in defensive areas for the Nigerian side, an area which performed steadily all through both halves, with Omeruo a monstrous performer.
The Kasimpasa defender was not found wanting at the left side of the defence especially during the first half when left wing back Bryan Idowu performed below expectations. Omeruo was decisive in tackles and assured in decision-making for most parts of the game.
100% tackles won
6 aerial duels won
2 chances created
2 fouls won
Soaring Super Eagle. ? pic.twitter.com/5gSC4yPW20
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 22, 2018
Captain Mikel did not do anything out of his usual self on the day but his diligence was enough to act as a shoulder for his younger teammates Wilfred Ndidi and Ogenekaro Etebo to lean on. Playing mostly on the right side of midfield, Mikel’s quick passing also allowed for Moses to get access to balls promptly in the second half to hurt the Icelandic side in transition.
“They (Nigeria) made their transitions very quick and we never recovered from the goal we conceded,” Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson posited after the match.
Victor Moses staying at the right wing back position was going to be a plus for the team because as noted by Ghana assistant coach Maxwell Konadu while divulging the weakness of this Icelandic side to us (https://www.aclsports.com/russia-2018-ghana-coach-advises-eagles-on-iceland/), they have slow full backs and that was exploited in Nigeria’s roller coaster ride in the second half.
Just like at the last World Cup in Brazil, man of the moment Ahmed Musa has not started this tournament as first choice but his performance on Friday makes him the first name on the list in the attacking position. His skill and attributes in addition to the experience of having played at the Under-20 and senior World Cup proved invaluable for the team as summed by Rohr.
“We changed our organisation. We played a 3-5-2. Victor Moses played where he plays in Chelsea, the captain coming back in his position where he plays in China and in Chelsea before.
“That was good. They did this for the country and for the team. It was not easy to convince them but finally they did well and also in the second half, we had more space and the speed of Ahmed Musa for example made it very interesting for us,” said Rohr.