NIGERIA’S Super Eagles were held to a 1-1 draw with the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia in a friendly match played last night at the Jacques Lemans Arena in Austria in what was a lacklustre performance raising fears about the team’s prospects.
During a two-match Fifa window, the Eagles lost 0-1 to the Desert Foxes of Algeria and then played a 1-1 draw with Tunisia, putting in sub-standard performances in both games. More worrying that the actual results was the fact that the team lacked cohesion and head coach Gernot Rohr looked lost with his selections.
Injuries to key midfielders Wilfred Ndidi, Joe Aribo and Oghene Etebo led to Mr Rohr making several bizarre changes to the team, including playing centreback Semi Ajayi in midfield in both matches. Despite the fact that the experiment did not work against Algeria, Mr Rohr opted for it again yesterday, playing a strange 4-1-5 formation which left the Eagles’ defence vulnerable whenever the Tunisians hit on the counter-attack.
To make matters worse, Mr Rohr could not bring himself to start promising youngsters like Cyril Dessers, Chidera Ejuke and Matthew Yakubu, opting instead for members of the old guard who are way past their best. Adding insult to injury, Mr Rohr did not see it fit to invite midfielders like Alhassan Yusuf, Kelechi Nwakali and Ramon Azeez to camp as replacements for the likes of Ndidi, Etebo and Aribo.
All these factors combined to ensure that the Eagles gave away what should have been an easy victory last night, playing badly in the process. Nigeria took an early lead after Kelechi Iheanacho controlled the ball inside the box and fired home from close range in the 20th minute.
He then had the opportunity to double Nigeria’s lead in the 28th minute after Nigeria won a penalty when skipper Ahmed Musa was brought down in the area. However, the Leicester City striker squandered the opportunity as his weak penalty was easily saved by Ben Mustapha in goal for Tunisia.
After that, Nigeria appeared to lose the plot as the absence of midfield cover began to tell, with the defence constantly left exposed whenever the Tunisians attacked. it was thus no surprise when the Tunisians levelled just before the break in the 44th minute, after Mohamed Draeger swept home an innocuous cross from the left after Kenneth Omeruo has been outfoxed.
With the Fifa window now closed and the players returning to the clubs, Mr Rohr will now turn his attention to the African Nations Cup double header against Sierra Leone next month. He stated that it will be extremely difficult for him to select players for the qualifiers due to the performance of the newly invited players.
Mr Rohr said: “We have some positives to pick out from the games because in spite of missing some key players we still competed well. Now, it is going to be difficult for me to pick our list for the African Cup of Nations qualifiers next month because of the new boys who did well.
Kelvin Akpoguma, Zaidu Sanusi, Samson Tijani and Frank Onyeka made their debuts against Algeria while Chidera Ejuke and Cyril Dessers also made their debut against Tunisia. Yesterday, however, Dessers and Ejuke were not introduced until the second half and their brilliant displays left fans wondering why they were not in the starting line-up.
Last night, the Super Eagles kept a defensive high line in the second half which handed the Tunisians more of the chances from counter attacking situations. With only Ajayi in midfield, there was no shield in front of the defence, leaving Nigeria very exposed whenever they lost the ball in midfield.
Leon Balogun (Chigozie Awaziem)
Zaudi Sanusi (Jamilu Collins)
Ahmed Musa (Cyril Dessers)
Samuel Chukwueze (Chidera Ejuke)