Nigeria were held 2-2 by hosts Ukraine in a friendly game which signaled the start of a new era for the senior national team with Gernot Rohr’s wards producing a sweet scenting performance which was tainted in the end by some blast from the past.
Gernot Rohr ended his first three years as Nigeria head coach in July with a third place finish at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and looks poised to carry on without some of the key actors of that era – Mikel John Obi and Odion Ighalo.
For neutrals, Tuesday night’s game was blissful. From the gleefully named city of Dnipropetrovsk which hosted the game, to the array of exciting, carefree talents on showcase for both sides; and of course the big Andriy Shevchenko continuing in the dugout for the Ukrainians.
One of the three debutants on the night for Nigeria, Joe Aribo took just four minutes to give some overwhelming validation to Rohr’s scouting network which unearthed the player who was still playing semi-professional football four years ago.
Dream start for Joe Aribo in the green and white colours. He taps home Iwobi's low cross. Fantastic play by Samuel Kalu in the buildup. Ukraine 0-1 Nigeria
— Fisayo Dairo (@FisayoDairo) September 10, 2019
Aribo’s goal was a product of the bursty and explosive attacking play of Nigeria’s front four on the night; Alex Iwobi, Samuel Kalu, Samuel Chukwueze and Victor Osimhen. The Nigerians dazed their hosts in no small measure in the opening half hour and should have indeed scored more than the two goals they took into the interval.
Hosanna! Here is the future we have been waiting for. This is what we have always demanded from the Super Eagles. A robust, pacy and electric brand of football which would fully optimise the depth of young attacking talents that the team possess.
While Nigerians – both players and fans on social media – continued to drool over the new vista of a half produced by the Eagles, their hosts who are yet to lose in 2019 were not going to let go of their unbeaten record that easily and they turned a corner in the second half, getting two quick fire goals as a reward.
While many have argued that the goals conceded by Nigeria were due to a palpable lack of concentration and moreso the exit of two of Nigeria’s key performers on the night (Iwobi and Kalu), it must be said that the Ukrainians had looked frightening every time they attacked the Nigerian goal.
Goalkeeper Francis Uzoho produced some sterling saves – including a double save late in the first half – after the hosts had cut the Nigerian defence open time and time again, something that happened in both halves.
In the end, the 2-2 draw represented a fair result for both sides considering that Nigeria created more in the first half while the Europeans bossed the second half. What should bother though is another second half of contrasting energy and display to the first under Gernot Rohr.
More so was the Franco-German’s seeming hesitation to make changes yet again in a mere friendly even if the first came in the 70th minute. There had been obvious signs of exhaustion among his personnel which culminated in a near-total surrender of the second half to Shevchenko’s men.
Individuals like Uzoho, the debuting Aribo and arrow-head Osimhen showed bright promises of what to expect in the nearest future but as a team; Tuesday’s game did not do enough to dissipate same old questions of killing off games and/or seeing them off.