Senior man strikes again
• Our strategy to cut off Salah worked perfectly, says Eguavoen
Nigeria and Egypt served the world arguably the best match so far in the on-going African Cup of Nations in Cameroun, yesterday, but the down side was the Super Eagles’ inability to convert the chances they created.
Even before the match kicked off at the Roumde Adjia Stadium, pundits had predicted it would serve the world the best of African football. And that they did, with the brave Super Eagles dictating play, creating chances, but unfortunately, failed to record more than the solitary strike by ‘senior man’ Kelechi Iheanacho.
Iheanacho crashed a half volley from the edge of the box into the top corner after 30 minutes to settle the contest, but Nigeria should have added at least a couple more goals in what was the best performance so far and a warning to their rivals.
Coach Austin Eguavoen had a simple strategy: Shut off Mo Salah, control the midfield and hit them from the flanks. That plan worked so well that Salah, regarded as the current best player in the world, was swallowed by the game plan.
For the Eagles, Moses Simon was easily the Man of the Match, with a blistering performance down the left flank. The Super Eagles have one foot in the knockout stage with the early haymaker.
Nigeria had the pick of the chances and former Liverpool forward Taiwo Awoniyi found the underside of the bar early in the second half.
Salah saw a powerful volley blocked before the linesman’s flag went up for an earlier offside infringement.
Moments later, the Egypt captain was denied by Nigeria goalkeeper Maduka Okoye from close range after he was played in by a fine ball over the top.
There was concern for Ndidi in the centre of the pack as he went down in the closing minutes, but the 25-year-old was able to continue after a suspected bout of cramp.
Nigeria had chances on the counter-attack as Egypt pressed for the equaliser and goalkeeper Mohammed El Shenawy was called into action to smother substitute Chidera Ejuke’s effort before the full-time whistle blew.
The result comes as a blow to Egypt’s hopes of building on their record-seven AFCON titles ahead of Saturday’s clash with Guinea Bissau.
Nigeria, in contrast, go with confidence into their next Group D encounter, against Sudan earlier that day.
Both teams are expected to progress from Group D despite yesterday’s result, but Nigeria’s victory sets the Super Eagles up nicely for a better Round of 16 matchup and a deep run in the tournament, while Egypt will feel added pressure in its other group stage matches against Guinea-Bissau and Sudan.
Speaking at the end of the match, Austin Eguavoen, expressed satisfaction with his side’s execution of its game plan.
He said: “Today, we cut Salah off the ball and tried to apply hard pressure at every given time.
“We knew we could mix it up through ball possession and going directly when necessary. We had three things in mind before the game. That is to win the game by keeping the ball and then cutting Salah off the game.”
Eguavoen said the victory is the beginning of Nigeria’s good run in the competition, adding that it would not make the team complacent.
“In this tournament, we are going to approach every game like it is a final. We are going to take each fixture one by one and see far we can go.
“I think every team that has come to AFCON should be respected regardless of the country because there are no minnows in football anymore.”
He added that the Eagles’ technical crew would review the players’ performance and then plot how to execute the remaining matches of the group stage.
“The thing is that in a competition of this magnitude, if you don’t plan well and you don’t put enough effort, you can be shocked. I don’t know who is going to win the tournament, but we will try in our own way to approach every game with all seriousness,” he said.