The Moustached Journalist says;
Showcasing an intense battle with the Super Eagles of Nigeria at the Alassane Quattara Stadium in Ebimpe, Abidjan on Sunday, January 14, the Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea forced the three-time African champions to a riveting 1-1 draw in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) Group A opener.
This ultimately culminated in a disheartened outing for José Peseiro’s men whom many had tipped off to victory. Sadly, it didn’t end well for the West African side at the end of 90 minutes.
Despite the relentless efforts from their opponents, Nigeria dominated early possession and should have grabbed the lead 10 minutes into the encounter, but found the Match-Of-The-Match and Equatoguinean goalkeeper Jesus Owono in fine form as he made several outstanding saves to keep the game levelled.
The game continued with near misses from both sides, especially from the Super Eagles who were utmostly wasteful in front of goal.
Iban Salvador broke the deadlock in the 36th minute to give Equatorial Guinea the lead, curled a well-placed shot into the far right corner of the net, leaving the man between the sticks for Super Eagles, Stanley Nwabali, motionless.
However, the lead lasted only two minutes with an instant response from the Reigning African Footballer of the Year, Victor Osimhen’s towering header coming off Ademola Lookman’s cross to level the scoreline for Nigeria.
Minutes later, Nigeria could have had a foot forward going into the break, while a low cross into the 12-yard box from the right-hand flank fell into the path of the Super Eagles’ left-back Zaidu Sanusi who was completely unmarked at the far post, but blasted it too high and wide to everyone’s surprise.
As play resumed in the second half, Equatoguinean shot-stopper was busier than ever, using his foot multiple times to keep the score levelled as the Super Eagles’ attacking force continuously pressed forward for a second goal but to no avail.
Unfortunately, Nigeria suffered a setback midway into the second 45 minutes when Alhassan Yusuf, the replacement to injured Wilfred Ndidi, whose impact was incomparably the best in the midfield for the Super Eagles was stretchered off injured.
Despite being the better side out of the two, Nigeria had occasionally failed to find the back of the net until the half-hour mark when the unbelievable happened.
The Super Eagles-led attackers were pacing on the forefoot, skimming through the Equatoguinean defence line with a one-time pass to set up the 25-year-old Napoli talisman in a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper, but fired a fantastic opportunity that would have put his team ahead in the 75th minute wide of the goal.
Commenting on the team’s performance and result during the post-match presser, Super Eagles Head Coach, José Peseiro claimed that his side deserved more than just a point from their clash with Equatorial Guinea. However, the Portuguese gaffer didn’t hesitate to express his disappointment with the outcome while accepting the fact that the team lacked marksmanship and was let down by poor finishing in the game.
“I’m not happy with the result. I’m sad, my players are sad. We are all sad because we deserve to beat our opponent. It’s normal to miss chances in football, I hope next time, we create fewer chances and score more goals.
“We played well and pushed our opponent back. I just hope we can maintain this same attitude in our subsequent games. Today, the result was not good for us, but we played well. If we play like this in subsequent games, then it will be difficult for any team to beat us,” the 63-year-old tactician said.
He also emphasized the need for the team to improve on converting their chances in subsequent games. He admitted that his side must strive to work on their finishing. While complaining about the harsh weather conditions in Ivory Coast and its effect on the players.
“We deserved to win this game because we created many chances. We therefore need to improve on our finishing. It’s not easy to play under these conditions. We couldn’t press as we should because of the heat. We need to manage our energy,” Peseiro noted.
Many talking points were pinpointed from the Super Eagles’ performance which caused them to struggle in the game. The main conversation was spearheaded by Osimhen’s wastefulness in front of goal which wrathful Nigerians had to take to their various social media handles to give their thoughts on the opening game.
Despite Osimhen netting the only goal for the Super Eagles, the reigning CAF Player of the Year was not spared from the rod, heavily subjected to trolls by some Nigerian football fans on social media and the streets across the major cities.
That miss by the 25-year-old striker in the 75th minute proved to be costly as the Super Eagles were unable to get a late goal to secure three points. Nigerians were unhappy with what would have been the winner and made that known through their messages on social media, especially.
In an interview with BBC Sports, the former Nigerian international, Efe Ambrose revealed individual talents without teamwork were the cause of the Super Eagles’ lacklustre outing in their Group A opener 1-1 draw against Equatorial Guinea.
“You have to play first as a team – it is not about individuals. I think that is what we are lacking right now – that team, that togetherness. I don’t think that it is not there, but it is not up to where it should be. Individuals will have the talent, they have everything but it is about how to assemble the right players with quality together, to work together as one,” he said.
With Equatorial Guinea crushing Guinea-Bissau in a six-goal thriller earlier on Thursday afternoon at the Alassane Quattara Stadium, the chances of securing a place in the last 16 were becoming slimmer for Nigeria as they meet hosts Ivory Coast in a potentially crucial clash in the second round of Group A fixtures in what could be an AFCON highlight.
Going into a must-winning encounter with Les Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire, José Peseiro had to reshuffle the midfield in the absence of Alhassan Yusuf who had a wonderful debut appearance for the Super Eagles before subbed off late into the second half due to an injury in their opening game against Equatorial Guinea.
In response to Nigeria’s underwhelming 1-1 draw with Equatorial Guinea in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, changes were made by the Super Eagles Head Coach, who switched formation and brought Frank Onyeka, Calvin Bassey and Samuel Chukwueze into the starting line-up.
There was makeshift in the shaky defence with notable remarks in the confidence of the defenders and their composure when with the ball. Moreso, minimised miscommunication, avoided putting themselves in a panic situation at the back and prevented ball-watching from the defenders like the situation that led them to concede the first goal in the opening game.
José Peseiro remained Chippa United’s Stanley Nwabali in goal with assistant captain William Troost-Ekong, Calvin Bassey and Semi Ajayi were the trio in the heart of the defence, flanked by Ola Aina and Zaidu Sanusi as wing-backs.
Despite the Super Eagles’ ability to play free-flowing and controlled football, the Portuguese gaffer opted to sit out Raphael Onyedika and Moses Simon on the bench. Perhaps, this could be due to their bad day in offices in the game before.
Digging deep in the centre of action were Frank Onyeka and Alex Iwobi completing the link-up play between the midfield and the attack. In addition, the duo of Ademola Lookman and Samuel Chukwueze created clear-cut chances and increased intensity on both sides of attack for the Reigning Africa’s Best Player Victor Osimhen who was out to right his wrong.
It was a huge match-up in the 34th edition of AFCON’s second round of Group A fixtures at the Alassane Quattara Stadium in Abidjan as hosts Ivory Coast took on the three-time winners Nigeria.
At kickoff, the Super Eagles’ determination was immediately noticeable from the first touch of the ball. It was a game of an all-or-nothing between the two heavyweights who were utmostly out to make a statement.
One interesting thing about José Peseiro’s tactical approach to the game was that he improved on the Super Eagles’ assemblage following a poor opening result in the tournament, putting the pressure on the Ivorians ahead of the final round of Group A games was the mission. A win for Nigeria was compulsory in the light of securing a place in the Round of 16 and targeting a fourth AFCON title.
José Peseiro’s men started on a right foot forward with an impressive run of play in the first few minutes of the game to outsmart the hosts a couple of times. Most especially, Osimhen outran his marker meters away from the centre half to set himself up in a one-on-one situation with the Ivorian goalkeeper, only to shoot wide of goal in what should have resulted in an early lead for Nigeria.
However, the Nigerian side did a good job controlling the game and limiting the opposition from posing any threat with Stanley Nwabali in his best form between the sticks, pulling out some brilliant saves to keep the scoreline goalless at halftime.
As the second half progressed, the Super Eagles didn’t slow down a bit by putting up a more solid display against Jean-Louis Gasset’s men, who were restricted to few chances in the game. Surprisingly, Nigeria’s defence line was comfortable confidently playing the ball and preventing the Ivorians from penetrating the box while the midfielders were composed and created chances during the game.
William Troost-Ekong’s second-half penalty was enough to earn the Super Eagles’ first win of the campaign after Victor Osimhen was fouled by Ousmane Diomande, in an incident first spotted by Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
Ivory Coast dropped to third in Group A after a 1-0 defeat to Nigeria, which puts them in need of a result in their final game to ensure they avoid an embarrassing early exit from their own AFCON. Meanwhile, the Super Eagles are alongside Equatorial Guinea at the top of the group before the final round of games next week.
Speaking with the media during the aftermath of the game, the Super Eagles Head Coach revealed that he had long masterminded Nigeria’s victory against the Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire before the commencement of the competition.
He explained that he mapped out the strategy for the game during his team’s training tour in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in preparations ahead of this year’s Africa’s biennial tournament.
“I started thinking about how to approach this game when we were in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Cote d’Ivoire is a strong team with good players, so we need to close down the space and defend very well. We know we have to work hard and not allow them play their football. The players did well to stick to our plan in the game,” Peseiro said.
The Super Eagles will take on the Djurtus of Guinea-Bissau in their final group game at the Felix Houphouet Boigny Stadium, Abidjan on Monday, January 22.