Nigeria came from behind to defeat Argentina 4-2 at the Krasnodar stadium to firmly announce herself as a team to watch in next year’s World Cup.
There is no doubt talents abound for the Super Eagles all around the world, but what was most instructive is the manner in which debutants and fringe players took their chances in what was indeed a high profile game against a football power house in Argentina.
Let’s just refresh our minds with the sterling displays by these Nigerian players who many know little or nothing about.
TYRONE EBUEHI (Defender)
The right back was one of the second half substitutes thrown into the match with Nigeria down at 1-2 after a subdued first half.
He did what Shehu Abdullahi failed to do in that position, bombed forward to support the attack fully optimising the 3-5-2 formation which allows the full backs play as wing-backs, something Victor Moses is more known for at Chelsea.
Ebuehi, 21, was an absolute delight for a young star playing his football for Dutch Eredivisie modest side ADO Den Haag, his performance on the night was a combination of absolute cold confidence, defensive solidify, pace and attacking threat.
Ebuehi who has cut a dejected figure on the bench of the super Eagles in many world cup qualifier games has now thrown his hat firmly into contention for not just a place in the team but a starting spot as well.
FRANCIS UZOHO (Goalkeeper)
The Deportivo La Coruna goalkeeper was expected by many Nigerians to man the post after a shaky performance by Ikechukwu Ezenwa during Friday’s world cup qualifier last game against Algeria, but coach Gernot Rohr opted for the less popular Daniel Akpeyi.
Well, Uzoho came on before the start of the second half after Nigerians tried to come to terms with a shocking elementary goalkeeping error by Akpeyi, and boy did he show class for one so young.
Uzoho it must be said is still only 19, but you won’t notice it from his tall composed figure and his command of his area to restore confidence to the defense.
He made a spectacular over the bar reflex save in the second half when he tipped over a Benedetto header destined for the top corner and his punch clear save from a right wing dangerous cross was very firm and assuring.
The clamour for veteran goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama’s return will not go away soon, but the steady Uzoho is a capable deputy or replacement no matter what Enyeama decides.
BRIAN IDOWU (Defender)
Brian Idowu joined the Super Eagles Camp from his Russian club FC Amkar Perm were he plies his trade as a defender.
25-year-old Idowu wasted no time to announce himself to Nigerian football fans with a brilliantly taken debut goal to make it 4-2 for Nigeria after coming on as a substitute.
His run all the way from the back to finish a wonderful build up under pressure will indeed make many strikers turn in envy.
It seems like the road back for Elderson Echiejile has been made more tedious by Idowu’s solid performance.
Okay done with the debutants, let’s give some mention to worthy fringe players who made a strong case for a ticket to Russia 2018 World Cup.
CHIDOZIE AWAZIEM (Defender)
One of the players brought in by coach Gernot Rohr as part of a three-man central defensive partnership along side Ekong and Balogun. Awaziem was a reliable passer of the ball out of the defense.
His first half was more defensive as Argentina completely dominated, but the arrival of Ebuehi and Idowu helped the Nantes FC of France regular starter play out from the back a little more easier.
Great performance from Awaziem who was one of the players that lasted the entire 90 minutes of the encounter.
OLA AINA (Defender)
Aina continued to show he could be comfortable either as a right or left back. He was one of the few players whose first half performance elicited any kind of hope amongst Super Eagles supporters.
Aina, on loan at Hull City from Chelsea was great to watch especially while carrying out his defensive duties.
He was replaced by a more adventurous Idowu in the second half.
JOHN OGU (Midfielder)
Ogu who plays for Hapoel Be’er Sheva of Israel clearly has two distinct classic qualities from the vice captain of the Super Eagles Ogenyi Onazi whom he replaced in both games against Algeria and Argentina.
The first is his passing skills, and second is his ability to easily win aerial duels with his height.
His energy level to chase after every ball like Onazi might not be there, but he more than makes up for it with his midfield control presence and awareness.