The Nigeria national team headed into their 2022 World Cup qualifier away at Cape Verde with a bit of mixed feelings.
Cape Verde victory a clear demonstration of Super Eagles’ squad depth
Gernot Rohr’s men were able to get the better of Blue Sharks in Mindelo on Tuesday.
Fresh from their opening qualifier against Liberia which ended 2-0 in Lagos last Friday courtesy of Kelechi Iheanacho’s brace, the mood wasn’t the same after the Super Eagles travelled to Cape Verde with a depleted squad.
A good chunk of the team playing their club football in the United Kingdom had to abort the trip due to the tiny island nation being a red list coronavirus country under the UK travel advisory.
Playing the game would mean the concern players had to quarantine for up to 15 days, leading them to missing key league and European games. Their clubs sides were clearly not going to let that happen.
The concerned players were William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Oghenekaro Etebo, Joe Aribo, Wilfred Ndidi, Iheanacho and Alex Iwobi. Samuel Kalu was also absent after testing positive for coronavirus before the trip to Mindelo.
These make up the core of coach Gernot Rohr’s squad. Without them, it’s like trouble is looming, but that clearly was not the case on Tuesday.
In the absence of these key players, Rohr had to revert to using debutants and some old faces. The debutants were Chidera Ejuke, Kingsley Michael and Bonke Innocent while the old faces were Abdullahi Shehu, Kenneth Omeruo and Chidozie Awaziem. The regulars were Victor Osimhen, Ahmed Musa, Moses Simon, Jamilu Collins and Maduka Okoye.
Dylan Tavares gave the home team the lead in the 19th minute of play only for Osimhen to respond 11 minutes later. It remained 1-1 until the 76th minute when Cape Verde midfielder Kenny Rocha Santos put the ball into his own net with a bizarre strike from long range that was supposed to be a back pass for goalkeeper Evora Dias.
Ejuke, Innocent and Michael all gave a good account of themselves on their debut, Ejuke the most impressive with his electric performance on the left flank. The old faces in Awaziem, Omeruo and Shehu demonstrated they can still be trusted and called upon any time.
It wasn’t the prettiest of wins in Mindelo. Indeed, every goal scored was as a result of a blunder either in the build-up or the final outcome and that’s not nice to see. However, pretty doesn’t matter at this stage. It’s qualification for the biggest football showpiece and anyhow the result comes, matters little so long the three points are in the bag.
“It was a difficult game for us, we needed to built a new team, it wasn’t easy, but in Nigeria we have abundant talents,” Rohr said after the match. “We are happy to win this game, it is not easy to come back, the goal we conceded was unfortunate. We need to continue winning and play well.”
“The new players have brought in new competition to the first team. We have had Bonke in our scouting team, they did well, we missed harmony in the early moment but they did a good job.”
Cape Verde aren’t an easy side. They were one out of eight teams that included Nigeria, to go through the entire 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers unbeaten, their last competitive defeat coming in an Afcon 2019 qualifier at Uganda on November 17, 2018, which ended 1-0.
Six points from two games at this stage is very huge and puts the Super Eagles in pole position for the playoff round so long they get a result in their next qualifier against Central African Republic which is a double header.
This will mean Nigeria gets to qualify for a fourth consecutive tournament under Rohr in record time. The German tactician has often gotten a lot of stick for not bringing home a trophy yet, and while that can’t be denied, it can’t be equally denied he has managed the blend of players very well.
He’s given a wide array of opportunities to impress and with what was seen from Ejuke, Michael and Innocent, it’s proof of the talent the country continues to produce.
Rather than get worried for what the future holds for the Super Eagles especially with what goes on off the pitch that has potential to destabilise proceedings, we can bask in the euphoria of knowing players will give us the needed joy and results in the midst of the troubles.
Kunle is an avid writer with interest in topics on sports, politics and health. His articles have featured in Goal.com, Opera News and Vanguard News. He holds a Bachelors and Masters degree in International Relations and is an advocate for people living with Hydrocephalus and other neurological conditions.
Pulse Contributors is an initiative to highlight diverse journalistic voices. Pulse Contributors do not represent the company Pulse and contribute on their own behalf.
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