By Ed Dove
What ecstasy, what euphoria, what elation – a cross from John Obi Mikel, a header from Victor Moses, and Nigeria’s sixth of the evening. The victory had been secured long before then, but that goal was not only the icing on the cake, but the cherry on top as well. 6 – 1; Liberia, plucky in periods but outclassed on the day, sent home as the immense potential of Stephen Keshi’s Nigeria finally showed in a crucial match. The Eagles had, in one firm stroke, both answered their critics and realised their potential – a place in the Africa Cup of Nations the immediate reward.
Babajide Alaka, writing for Goal Nigeria before the event, suggested that an early goal was one of the five pre-requisites for a home win. Alaka argued that it was vital that the match didn’t fall into a rut, Nigeria retreating within themselves, after failing to break through the Liberian defence. For him, the Super Eagles needed to come out of the blocks chomping at the bit, ready to strike right at the heart of the Liberian backline, and not allow the visitors to settle.
Alaka was not disappointed, as Nigeria not only hit the ground running, they also managed to open the scoring within the game’s initial minutes. It was ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ stuff; Celtic defender Efe Ambrose latching onto a free kick in the second minute to help the ball past Liberian keeper Nathaniel Sherman – the start was as perfect for Nigeria as it was disastrous for the Lone Stars, and in truth, the visitors never quite recovered from this blow.
Liberia began to gently reassert themselves, but clearly reeling from the opening assault, many of their attacks petered out, or they ended in the arms of Vincent Enyeama. Sekou Oliseh was the visitors’ single attacking menace, and he constantly battled with the Nigerian backline, as well as prompting a smart save from The Cat on 34 minutes. Liberia’s emerging confidence was, however, quashed a few minutes later as Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike combined well – a theme for the afternoon – and the former put Nigeria two goals to the good.
The half ended with Nigeria looking fairly comfortable, a carnival atmosphere in Calabar, with Mikel the darling once more, pulling the strings in the middle of the park. In retrospect, the first half performance had been fairly unconvincing – even if the scoreboard suggested otherwise.
Made in West London | Moses celebrates goal with Mikel
The second period started much as the first had – vibrant, direct attacking from the Super Eagles striking at the core of the Liberian defence. Vicky Moses fired home moments after the restart, and at 3-0, 5-2 on aggregate, Lone Star hopes began to fade. Nigeria’s inexorable ascent continued, as the team’s attacking stars lost their inhibitions and offered a creative display to match any seen across the continent yesterday.
Obi Mikel scored with a penalty to make it 4-0, before substitute Ike Uche scored the fifth late on. These two goals contributed to two of the day’s central narratives; the first being the return to action of Mikel – Chelsea Star, European Champion, Seasoned Performer – it’s not too much to expect great things from John Obi on the continental stage, and Saturday’s display suggests that those who have retained high hopes for the midfielder may not have misplaced them. Brought back into the fray by Keshi, Mikel had an authoritative afternoon in the middle of the park, any success at Afcon is surely dependent, to some degree at least, on the performances of this man.
Mr Prolific | Ike Uche came off the bench to score again
Today’s result was also due in no small part to the attacking trident selected by Keshi. Ahmed Musa and Victor Moses flanked Emmanuel Emenike, and all three offered a display that can rank among their individual best for the Super Eagles. I wrote before the game of Nigeria’s plethora of attacking talent, and this performance provides the render and finish for my opinion. Perhaps the likes of Yakubu, Utaka, Martins, and Odemwingie do belong in Nigeria’s past, and perhaps this trio of young, athletic stars will herald an exciting era for the Super Eagles. Add Ideye Brown and Ike Uche to these three, and Nigeria will have options that can rival any on the continent in the coming years.
Late on, Liberia endured the ignominy of the dismissal of their captain Gebro after a second yellow for simulation, whilst a late goal through Patty Wleh will offer scant consolation and warm few cockles back in Monrovia. The visitors were outclassed, and the outing took on an extra gloss for Nigeria after a sixth and final goal – this one made in West London; Mikel and Moses combining to great effect. There was even time for Lazio youngster Eddy Ogenyi to make a late debut – great things are expected of the Lagos-born player, and this was not an afternoon he will forget in a hurry.
Whilst the day was a thoroughly miserable one for Liberia, it is one that will be remembered fondly in Nigeria – vindication for Keshi, a coming of age, perhaps even the heralding of a brighter future for a nation so maligned and so reviled in recent times. Doubtless many will be imagining, perhaps even expecting, glory in South Africa – a result as glowing as this has a habit of allowing dreamers to dream, and whilst that may be an unrealistic leap in expectations, Nigerians can look forward to an exciting future, and begin to place the tremors of recent times firmly behind them.
Nigeria 6, Liberia 1 – the continental high table awaits.