With Nigeria set for a showdown against the Chipolopolo of Zambia for a spot in the 2018 World Cup, we highlight five Nigerian players to look out for in the cracker at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo.
The mercurial Moses, flying wingback at Chelsea and talismanic winger with the Super Eagles has proved he is Nigeria’s hottest footballing property with his performances in the World Cup qualifiers.
Victor Moses showed his pre-eminence in both legs of the fixture against Cameroon. Time and again he was scythed down by the Cameroonian defenders who were frustrated by his trickery and constant running. The winger (or wingback) has three goals in Nigeria’s World Cup qualifying campaign including his brace in his superlative performance against Algeria. The 26-year old missed the reverse fixture of this tie at Ndola but at Uyo, he certainly will be chomping at the bit to lead the Super Eagles to the 2018 World Cup in Russia with his otherworldly display. Moses is full of edge of the seat moments and he’s sure to deliver in Nigeria’s most important game yet in the qualifiers.
The elder statesman, totem of everything calm and serene. The love affair with Mikel Obi was not always this strong. Mikel Obi didn’t have the fans’ adulation and high praise some months back. It was more side-eyed acknowledgement of his status as a cog in the Super Eagles. Injury happened, he missed the South Africa game and the midfield got thrust into bedlam status. Then the true worth of the Super Eagles captain was known. Mikel didn’t disappoint. Not fully fit he donned the Green and White and strode the pitch majestically restoring calm to the midfield while connecting the midfield to the attack and notching a goal and an assist. To further state his importance, after he was substituted in the second leg of the Cameroon game, the midfield found it difficult to keep possession against the press of their opponents. Also the midfield lost its structure and the Cameroonians found it easy to break through the lines to assert themselves and ultimately getting a penalty that led to the equalizer ten minutes after Mikel Obi trudged off the pitch.
The Lion of the famed Oyinbo wall. The Mainz player was an assured figure in the defence in Nigeria’s last game quenching opposition attacks while starting them for the Super Eagles. The defender’s excellent reading of the game was on show as he stepped out of the defence to make timely interceptions as well as that last ditch tackle that remains etched into our sub-conscious. The swaggering display by the 29-year old alongside his partner William Troost-Ekong has drawn comparisons with the legendary duo of Taribo West and Uche Okechukwu. Balogun’s confidence with the ball at his feet is amazing as the central defender played out of the back with consummate ease and when there were no passing options, he simply walked the ball into the attack from the defence. Easy peasy.
The Changchun Yatai striker proved a menace to the Cameroonian defence with his movement and his physicality. After being overlooked for the South African tie, the forward was recalled for the Cameroon games and he acquitted himself brilliantly. The former Watford striker intelligently dropped deep to receive balls when he felt starved of service a trait he hardly showed in his previous displays with the Super Eagles. The striker in several games for Nigeria has always cut an isolated figure in attack taking up high starting positions and detached from the midfield and gameplay generally. He has shown he can mix it up now, dropping deep, drifting wide, playing on the defenders shoulder, it is the whole nine yards now. With more strings added to bow, as well as his contributions in and around the box, scoring goals or creating chances the 28-year-old is certainly one to watch. Oh, his signature ‘Iggy Chop’, a simple yet effective move he uses to dribble past defenders to create a shooting angle is one thing to look out for.
His last game at Uyo was nothing short of a disaster, largely ineffective and the Super Eagles were defeated against South Africa. Certainly, Gernot Rohr learnt from that game an important lesson: how not to use Alex Iwobi in a match. On how to use him, Arsene Wenger might have shown Rohr a trick or two. The midfielder who got a goal in Arsenal’s last game played in the inside right channel where he combined well with Alexander Lacazette. The Super Eagles certainly will bear a different look with the youngster back in the side after he missed the doubleheader to Cameroon through injury. His creativity and intelligent use of the ball will add another dimension to the Eagles’ attack while also aiding ball retention. The 21-year old got a goal in the reverse fixture of the tie against Zambia, his only goal for the Super Eagles so far, he’d certainly love to add another.