The 2013 Afcon winners were far from their best against the Ghanaians on Friday, and they need to raise their game to secure victory in the return leg
The Super Eagles were outfought and out-thought in a jam-packed Baba Yara Stadium but did well to leave Kumasi without losing the game.
The scenario will be different at the Moshood Abiola Stadium in Abuja today, where 60,000 fans will be cheering the Eagles to victory over the Black Stars.
Still, the game will be won and lost on the pitch, and head coach Augustine Eguavoen must find a way to address three of the team’s most visible flaws to boost their winning chances.
Improving Nigeria’s weak centre
In midfield, Eguavoen played Lorient star Innocent Bonke alongside Rangers’ Joe Aribo in Kumasi. And for the first hour or so, the Eagles looked disjointed and were totally dominated in that department.
While Bonke and Aribo were a nuisance for Thomas Partey and Mohammed Kudus, the Lorient midfielder did very little when on the ball and rarely got the attack moving with progressive passes.
Bonke got injured and was replaced in that encounter, and he remains a doubt for the Abuja clash.
But the Super Eagles improved significantly with the second-half introduction of Frank Onyeka and Oghenekaro Etebo, and it appears there is already a ready-made solution to that problem.
Get well soon, Wilfred Ndidi.
Unshackling Osimhen, the defender’s nightmare
To say Victor Osimhen was pocketed in Kumasi is an understatement. The Napoli striker was double-marked, rough-handled at every turn, and barely had a sniff at goal.
Usually, those are the kinds of battles he lives for and thrives in, but when the wingers and midfielders fail to provide him adequate service, they set him up to fail.
Eguavoen needs to set the team up to get the best out of Osimhen. Kelechi Iheanacho looked too pedestrian. Samuel Chukwueze did not link up with the Napoli man once all night.
Almeria’s Umar Sadiq will be a better foil for Osimhen than Iheanacho. And you can trust Ademola Lookman to aim more crosses and passes at the former Lille lad.
May God show mercy to the Ghanaian defenders after that because Osimhen will not.
Sticking with Moses Simon or not
The Nantes forward was by some distance Nigeria’s best player during the group stages of the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, providing goals, assists, and loads of dribbling highlights.
But Simon has had two indifferent games since – in the 1-0 loss to Tunisia in the Afcon’s round of 16 and Friday’s meeting with Ghana.
There are fascinating options available for Eguavoen as a direct replacement for the former Levante ace, including Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis, Leicester City’s Lookman, and FC Copenhagen’s Akinkunmi Amoo.
But a firing Simon trumps them all. And judging by his words at the pre-match conference yesterday, Ghana may be about to feel the wrath of the petite attacker.
The 26-year-old said, “Of course, you’ll see me in form in tomorrow’s (Tuesday’s) game.
“It’s not all about me; it’s all about the team and team spirit. We know what it takes for this game, and we’ll give everything.
“The game against Tunisia, I was not caged, if you say I was caged, I didn’t observe it, and you talk about the game against Ghana, it is tactics because we all know it can be difficult.
“We know how Ghana play, so we decided to play for a draw because we know when they come here, they will lose.”
What better time to prove his critics wrong than in a World Cup decider against Nigeria’s most prominent football foe?
If only Eguavoen will retain Simon in the starting lineup.