The Super Eagles for the third game running under Jose Peseiro fell to the early goal against Sierra Leone but were able to bounce back this time to make a difference.
In games against Mexico and Ecuador, although inconsequential but highly significant to give the coach a sense of direction as to his principles and system, Nigeria lost to shaky defending and a proclivity to start the game on a slow-mo.
Against Sierra Leone, these signs reined in again with the Lone Stars asking all the questions in the opening exchanges. Although the pitch was an eyesore and would be a threat to the most free-flowing of teams, the Nigerians understood an excuse wasn’t tenable.
It might have been a different case if the Nigerians conceded with fans in the stand as they showed defensive lapses that have now become the team’s regular trademark. Crawling back from a trailing position hasn’t been Nigeria’s greatest strength on most days but the Sierra Leoneans, bold in their expectations were there for the taking and they were taken.
Peseiro’s decision to go with a double-prong attack has been regular sights in his three games with the Super Eagles. He has shown a knack to have control of the ball and has spoken about it at every opportunity.
Against Sierra Leone, he listed Sadiq Umar and Victor Osimhen and both looked sharp and lively. Similar to what the Portuguese tried out with Terem Moffi and Cyriel Dessers on the US tour, it may be a regular feature moving forward.
He also stuck with the midfield duo of Alex Iwobi and Joe Aribo. Both players, although energetic and effervescent, struggled to get a hold of the game as the Lone Stars enjoyed a jolly ride through the Nigerian middle early in the game. They both settled in the game as the flurry of attacks reduced and Nigeria equalised but looked better and sharper when Oghenekaro Etebo was introduced in the second half.
Etebo provided good cover for the Nigerian defense and must have given Peseiro new opinions on what’s best for the team. When asked about his decision to start without a recognisable defensive midfielder, the Portuguese defended his decision and system in what may have been a less acceptable decision if the match ended the other way.
There are exciting times ahead, especially in the attack where Peseiro has shown a desire to have control. With more matches and a better understanding of his principle, there are good times ahead for the national team.
However, some holes must be plugged as soon as possible, especially in the defense. William Troost-Ekong and Semi Ajayi started their third straight game together but hardly showed any semblance of a strong understanding.
They would have been severely punished by a better opposition as they struggled in various periods. Both players at different moments must have caused Peseiro some hiccups but it’s just the beginning. There’s time to fix and mould before the bigger moments.