Keep Omeruo, play Mikel defensively - the five things Nigeria must do against Mali

The Super Eagles on Sunday in Rustenburg proved naysayers wrong by beating the top seeded team in Africa but they must prove it again against the Eagles of Mali on Weddnesday
By Babajide Alaka | Deputy Editor

The Super Eagles roused themselves last Sunday to beat overwhelming Africa Cup of Nations favourites, Cote d'Ivoire 2-1 and get a berth in the semi-final to play the Eagles of Mali. For the second consecutive edition, the Malians have knocked out the hosts in the quarter final. They subdued Gabon last January to end up in third position.

The stage is set and the prize could not be juicier - the prospect of a final appearance against either Ghana or Burkina Faso on Sunday in Soccer City in Johannesburg. looks at five things the Stephen Keshi-led coaching crew must do to get Nigeria that final ticket.


Though Joseph Yobo is adamant that he is fully fit now, Stephen Keshi must not be tempted to bring him back into the central defensive department to replace Kenneth Omeruo. Omeruo showed against Cote d’Ivoire that he is ready to step into the shoes of the captain and the most capped Super Eagles player ever.

Keshi must take a leaf out of the 1994 triumph where he as captain played the opening match and that was it until the final when he raised the trophy aloft with stand-in captain, Augustine Eguavoen.

There is no need to be sentimental – Omeruo is quicker, stronger and hungrier; all attributes that help to get success. Moreover, there is a growing understanding between Godfrey Oboabona and the ADO Den Haag defender, whom he played with at Sunshine Stars before he travelled abroad.


There was no prepared dossier on Sunday Mba and his unknown quality is helping to unravel defences in South Africa. Mba, a striker by trade is using his striking instincts to run at defences from midfield where he has taken over from Nosa Igiebor.

He will continue to bring that extra to the Super Eagles at least until the end of Afcon 2013. As an auxiliary forward placed in a midfield role, Nigeria at times against Cote d’Ivoire played with four strikers which will trouble any defence line on any given day.

So as the Eagles prepare to face familiar foes in Mali, Keshi should continue to repose confidence in this Nigeria Premier League star. He cannot be stopped as he is relatively unknown.


With the clock at 85:12 against Cote d’Ivoire, Lacina Traore thought redemption had come when he trapped the ball inside Nigeria's six yard box but the next thing he knew, the ball had been knocked out for a corner kick.

That was Mikel Obi at his best. His DNA has been fine-tuned at Chelsea to sniff out attacks and snuff them out – that is where he is in his elements. Against Cote d’Ivoire, he played from deep instigating the Eagles’ attacks and keeping a watchful eye on Yaya Toure, he will need to be that watchful on Wednesday as the Eagles take on Mali.

As he allowed Mba to get ahead of him into the final third and the Nigerian team profited from his selflessness. He put the team before himself and though he will not be remembered for that slalom-like goal from Mba, real football fans will remember that tackle on Traore and there will be smiles all around.


The Eagles needed pace and energy to combat the mobility of Yaya Toure, Salomon Kalou and Gervinho and he supplied it in abundance. Though he can be reckless at times with his tackling which is a sign of his relative inexperience, what he brings to the middle of the park is positive.

Playing in the Serie A with SS Lazio has helped him have the mentality of not giving away the ball carelessly and that has helped the Super Eagles as they transit from defence into attack.

Though he has not scored in the competition, he has shown all the qualities needed to help the Eagles achieve their goal in South Africa. Moreover, he has a lot of prayers backing him from The Synagogue camp as was attested to by his mouthing "I love you TB Joshua" to the camera after Sunday's game.

We cannot finish this preparative piece without asking for Efe Ambrose to forgive us for doubting his ability. And kudos to Keshi who has kept faith in the Celtic defender and persisted with him through all the criticism justly levelled at him when his performances were not up to scratch.

Efe has grown in leaps and bounds in South Africa as he grows into the right back role and against Cote d’Ivoire on Sunday – he literally put Kalou and Gervinho in his back pocket while venturing forward to help the attack. However, he needs to make his final delivery of the ball more inch perfect.

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