5 things we learnt from Super Eagles' AFCON qualifiers against the Benin Republic and Lesotho
Some lessons from Super Eagles' final AFCON qualifiers.
Nigeria beat the Benin Republic with a late-minute goal away in Porto-Novo on Saturday, March 27, 2021 and thrashed Lesotho 3-0 in the final qualifier in Lagos on Tuesday, March 30.
These are five things we learnt from the game
1. Paul Onuachu makes statement
In-form striker Paul Onuachu responded to Gernot Rohr's hesitancy in calling him up in brilliant fashion.
He scored two games in as many games to show that he truly belongs among the Super Eagles.
Although Rohr might not have thought that the in-form striker didn't belong among the Super Eagles-he hinted that Onuachu was his second-choice striker- but being left out of the initial squad wasn't complimentary.
Onuachu needed to deliver when called up, and he did. He scored an important last-minute winner against Benin and the third goal in the game against Lesotho.
His place in the Super Eagles squad is no longer in doubt with these performances.
2. Confident Iheanacho thrives
Kelechi Iheanacho headed into the international break on the back of some of the best performances of his career.
Iheanacho had been in fantastic form for Leicester City, scoring a Premier League hat-trick and a brace against Manchester United.
With these performances, the forward is high on confidence which he exuded in both games.
Iheanacho thrived playing off the leading striker Victor Osimhen. And even when he didn't register any goal or assist in the game against Benin, he still put in a fine performance.
He made some excellent dribbles, playing some good balls to his more forward teammates and generally had a solid game.
Against Lesotho, he had a hand in the lead up to all Super Eagles goals. An assist for the first and then his back-flip pass that opened up the Lesotho defence in the lead up to the second. For the third, he found Henry Onyekuru, who assisted Onuachu.
3. Henry Onyekuru makes a case for himself
Initially, on the stand-by lost, Onyekuru only got into the squad for the games following the absence of a couple of players.
But the Galatasaray forward in the games against The Benin Republic and Lesotho made a case for himself.
He was brilliant in the first in Porto-Novo; he caused lots of problems for the opposition defence with his pace, close ball control defence and the goal threat he posed with his movement inside the box.
He almost scored after making one of those drifting runs inside the box and met a cross with his head which the goalkeeper saved.
Although his level dropped in the second half of that game before he was taken off, he impressed again when he was called from the bench against Lesotho.
He made those runs again, cutting in from the left into the penalty box, and it was there he got an assist, flicking a perfect pass for Onuachu to score.
4. Super Eagles' full-back roles sorted
It wasn't long ago that Rohr was using Abdullahi Shehu (a defensive midfielder) and Chidozie Awaziem (a central defender) as fullbacks.
Although they were both decent options, they didn't offer what naturally fullbacks would have.
Against Benin and Lesotho, Rohr didn't have that problem; instead of those makeshift fullbacks, Super Eagles had Premier League star Ola Aina, Tyrone Ebuehi and Champions League-tested Zaidu Sanusi.
With these options, the Super Eagles had width and overloads in wide areas, making them more dangerous.
Aina in the first game and Ebuehi in the second progressed the ball well from defence to attack.
On the left, Sanusi was rapid on both ends of the pitch and almost had an assist in the first half against Benin.
5. Victor Osimhen is the highest goalscorer
Osimhen left his troubles at Napoli and scored one in two for Nigeria to finish as a joint-top goalscorer of the AFCON qualifiers.
He scored against Lesotho on Tuesday after firing blanks against Benin. The striker wasn't entirely convincing, but the thing about Osimhen is that he leaves everything on the pitch, which makes it difficult to criticise him.
He's a difficult player to face, always chasing balls and playing with an intensity hard to match.
That's how he got his goal against Benin; relentlessly chasing an over-hit pass from Iheanacho and beating the goalkeeper to the ball.
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