Benin Republic recorded a first ever win over Nigeria senior national team in 21 matches spread across 58 years in the 2018 CHAN qualifier first leg encounter at the Mathieu Kerekuo Stadiu, Cotonou last weekend.
Squirrels captain Mama Seibou scored a late winner against the unimpressive NPFL stars from the spot.
With the return leg scheduled for this Saturday at the Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano. Here’s five things Adepoju Tobi learnt from the first leg and the possible effect going into the second leg fixture.
The winner over both legs will secure one of the 15 tickets available for the tournament expected to hold in Kenya next year. Nigeria must score two unreplied goals to stand a chance of qualifying for the tournament.
1. Benin Republic are young and energetic
The average age of the Squirrels of Benin is 23. Despite the poor league structure in Benin Republic coach Tchomogo Oumar was able to build a team with young and energetic players. The country took the CHAN qualifiers serious and started preparations early, the team has played over 10 matches including two matches against Togo in the previous round of the qualifiers, friendly games against Egypt, Niger Republic followed.
The Squirrels led by Mama Seibou, Elegbede Jules, Gomez Charnel, Aboki Wariss all gave the Super Eagles a difficult game. Benin Republic dominated and won the battles in midfield against the duo from Akwa United; Afeez Aremu and Ifeanyi Ifeanyi. Yarou Nabil and Koukpo Degnon came close on several occasions. The squad stayed compact and dominated without signs of being tired, despite the pitch obviously a wide one. The strength of the team was a big advantage.
Nigeria will face a more a difficult task on the compact pitch in Kano. The breadth and length of the Kano pitch doesn’t come close to what the Squirrels had in Cotonou. The size of the pitch might be easy for the visitors in Kano to drop back and defend well.
2. Salisu Yusuf got his tactics wrong
Super Eagles chief coach Salisu Yusuf got his tactics wrong last weekend. His decision to leave out NPFL top scorer Stephen Odey and Akwa United star Ibrahim Alhassan hurt the team. With Kingsley Eduwo playing as a centre forward, Alhassan could have been a better option to play behind Eduwo. He is a better passer of the ball ahead of ageing Rabiu Ali who started.
The Squirrels dominated the first half with five attempts, Nigeria had just one attempt from Chima Akas who let fly from distance. Super Eagles got back into the game in the second half when coach Salisu introduced Alhassan for Ali and Odey for Thomas Zenke, it was the moment Nigeria dominated and threatened in the final third. Eduwo was caged all through the game as the Lobi Stars striker got frustrated and committed most fouls in the game.
With the pace of Odey and Alhassan’s final balls in the final third, Salisu must start the duo in the second leg. It was obvious the duo can wreck havoc if they get enough time on the field. Odey once again proved he is a goal poacher with his winner against Kano Pillars on Wednesday in the practice match.
3. Stephen Eze is a solid rock
The FC Ifeanyi Ubah defender looked impressive and solid at the back. His height was a massive advantage for the Super Eagles, he won all his aerial battles against the Squirrels. If not for his solid performance, the young Squirrels could have scored more. He comfortably paired with Orji Kalu having played most times in the CHAN Eagles with Jamiu Alimi.
Orji, got a silly second yellow card and he won’t be available for the second leg, Plateau United defender Elisha Golbe has been called-up as Orji’s replacement. Akwa United defender Emmanuel Ariwa is favourite to pair Eze on Saturday. Eze must maintain his superb performance in Kano and he will be a key figure in the game.
4. Sikiru can’t function without Odey
The CNN wonder goal winner Sikiru Olatunbosun performance last weekend was below average until Odey came into the game, he couldn’t combine well with Eduwo and Thomas Zenke. It was obvious his twin partner at MFM was missing. Salisu pulled out Zenke and introduced Odey.
Odey’s introduction spurred Sikiru and the combination of the duo gave Nigeria due advantage with better possession of the ball upfront in the second half.
Sikiru is the only natural left-winger in the squad and he may get to start this weekend. Salisu should ensure Odey also make the starting line-up, Sikiru obviously can’t function without Odey.
5. Rohr should give Alhassan Super Eagles chance
Alhassan came into the game and Nigeria dominated with the Akwa United attacking midfielder dictating the pace of the game. The Benin Republic coach had to deploy a two-man marking system to try and stop Alhassan’s final through balls. His dribbles and moves were amazing. Though he came on during the second half, he got a standing ovation for his superb performance.
If Rohr will invite any of the NPFL stars for the games against Cameroon next month in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, Alhassan should be the man.
He showed in the game against Benin Republic he might fit into the ‘number 10’ role in the main Super Eagles. With either Ogenyi Onazi, Wilfred Ndidi and deployed in a more defensive role in midfield, Alhassan will do a brilliant job as the anchor man. Rohr will not regret trying this!
Do you agree with Tobi’s suggestions to coach Salisu Yusuf? Share your thoughts on the comment section below