It was a case of finally getting up and running, as Nigeria got back on track in their quest to make finals of an African Cup of Nations tournament for the first time since 2013. In a game where beforehand winning was the minimum, it was unlikely to be awash with positives, and so it proved, beating Seychelles, even away from home, was ever hardly an achievement. Add to that the fact that, from the view of television, the game seemed as lifeless on the fans’ side as it did in terms of the broadcasting and commentary, then there’s nothing to applaud, really.
Except, there probably is. It’s not hard to note that this wasn’t the Super Eagles’ strongest squad, five of the players who were key parts of the World Cup side didn’t start in Victoria, four didn’t play at all, and one, as everyone knows, is unlikely to ever turn out in an Eagles shirt again. So, that Gernot Rohr watched his rotated side win, and win with comfort, without ever really having to leave first gear, is not a bad thing.
The confidence that brings is always welcome, from the new players having little nerves in bedding in, the old guard having to now thrust a particular amount of assurance in the new blood, fans not fidgeting at the thought of the absence of a certain set of players, and the coach himself getting optimistic in terms of reliable depth in the side; the confidence is welcome.
That also goes quite a way in curbing laxity and slackness in the side. Winning with a rotated squad throws a gauntlet to the supposed mainstays in the side, that competition for places is by no means, and it is up to them to show they’re considered mainstays.
There’s nothing wrong with competition for places. Watching the likes of Samuel Kalu and Chidozie Awaziem on the pitch, staking their claim to be regulars in not just the national setup, but the national line-up as well, there comes the sense that we’re more than just our first eleven, and, whether they get displaced by the regulars or not, there’ll be players on the bench during games whom you think of and be hopeful of a tight game changing, players who can come on be decisive.
And not to mention the fact that, one way or another, this sends a message to the continent, we can afford to bring in rotated faces, drop a gear or two, and yet win while barely breaking sweat.
If Nigeria’s World Cup qualification- easily winning a group involving Cameroon, Algeria and Zambia- had already sent the message that we’re more than formidable, then this probably reinforces it.
Then again, there should be calls against going overboard. There were still visible flaws in the rotated side. The defence was more than shaky, Leon Balogun and Kenneth Omeruo at the back isn’t the same as Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong at the back, and we still look shaky from set-pieces or any forms of crosses into the eighteen-yard box.
It is also worth noting, on whether or not this was a statement to the rest of the continent, that this was only against Seychelles, a side who conceded five to Libya earlier in this qualifying campaign, and better opponents will always punish us for our defensive susceptibility and any drop in gear.
But, this still has the feel of a positive. You can’t be too sceptical about a watching side shuffle its pack and yet come out with the big numbers.