By Ed Dove
It wasn’t a vintage display by any means, nor was it the kind of champagne football that a nation of our resources and talent pool ought to be aspiring to, but it was a win, and perhaps ultimately, bearing everything in mind, that is all that matters.
This was the kind of victory that champions are made of—or so they say.
It can’t all be comfortable—as against the jaded Burkina Faso in Johannesburg, nor effortlessly glorious—as against Mali in Durban. Sometimes things don’t go your way, things just don’t flow, but the desire is there, the quality endures, and the points eventually come home.
The performance was, at times, turgid, and that cannot be ignored, but there are mitigating factors.
First of all, consider the absence of Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike, our two most potent attacking threats—the architect and executioner of some of the Afcon’s finest evenings. International teams—due to the constraints of time and opportunity, the demands of the club and the immediate nature of competition—often struggle for cohesion and rhythm. Even bearing in mind the many games that the Super Eagles have played already this year, it is natural that the absence of two such influential talents has a major effect on the side’s performance.
I would be more concerned about their respective injuries, and their absences, were it not for the burgeoning development of Ahmed Musa. Long considered the ‘bright hope’ of the Nigerian game, Musa struggled to force his way into Stephen Keshi’s starting XI during the Afcon, and had to make do with a role as an impact substitute.
Now, necessity has dictated that the CSKA Moscow man finally receives his chance in the starting line-up, and specifically, as a key offensive outlet to the side. Fresh from a terrific season as a league winner in Russia, Musa has the form and the ability to make a major impact at the Confederations Cup, and to cement his place in the coach’s thinking.
His performance against Kenya will have done no harm to his emerging prominence within the national set up, and with the prospect of immortality at the World Cup on the horizon, Musa looks primed to make the most of the opportunity granted to him.
His key involvement came in the 81st minute of play, latching onto a deft ball played through the middle of the park, Musa shrugged off the attentions of a quarrelling defender before lofting the ball beautifully over the advancing Duncan Ochieng. Whilst the keeper was perhaps at fault for the early charge, nothing ought to be taken away from Musa’s anticipation, vision and execution—a touch of class in an otherwise hebetudinous encounter.
Ahmed Musa wheels away following his winner
I had predicted, during my Twitter coverage of the game, that the winning goal would only come via an exquisite through ball—some fixtures are so listless that they are evidently to be decided more by the quality of the assist rather than the quality of the finish.
The majority of the contest was bogged down in a midfield quagmire. Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama, reportedly a target of many a Premier League side, was superlative among his lesser teammates. ‘Big Vic’ marshalled the midfield, launching forward in occasional attacking forays, and reducing the effectiveness of Naija’s three in the centre.
The Celtic man picked up a knock just after the hour mark, and this seemed to reduce his appetite and his influence. Nigeria were quick to capitalise when Stevie Waruru discharged possession, and Efe Ambrose’s vision and excellence of execution emerged to the fore.
Musa’s finish was delicious, but Wanyama’s Celtic teammate Ambrose must also receive credit.
Many of Goal Nigeria’s readers were quick to disagree with my recent comments surrounding Joseph Yobo.
I argued that the experience the former Everton man brought to the team during the Cup of Nations, when inserted by Keshi from the bench, was an invaluable and often-overlooked feature of our delirious triumph. Bearing this in mind, I felt that a similar composure and guile had been absent in our disappointing post-Afcon displays.
While this latest performance endured its fair share of malaise and meander, the reinstitution of Mikel and Vincent Enyeama to the starting line-up adds a layer of experience and composure to Keshi’s collective. The goalkeeper had little to do, but has surely proved his worth to fans (and our chief editor Lolade Adewuyi!) this year after the unconvincing outings in 2012.
Mikel perhaps didn’t reach the heights that we have come to expect, and at times looked fairly muted against Wanyama. I imagine that a long season—in which he has played in well over 40 matches—is beginning to take its toll, and he will need to up his game for the challenges posed by Spain and Uruguay at the Confederations Cup.
According to Yobo, qualifying for the World Cup is the summer’s priority, ahead of a strong showing in Brazil. In this objective, at least, Nigeria look well on track—this latest victory going someway to offsetting the disappointments of previous draws against Malawi and the Harambee Stars themselves.
The three points put us firmly in pole position within the group, two points ahead of Malawi, and within touching distance of progression. It is encouraging to know that a win in our next game, in Windhoek on Wednesday, could see us through, providing Malawi fail to beat Kenya in Blantyre.
The advantage clearly lies with Keshi and his Super Eagles. So far, so good; a tempestuous June is being navigated successfully.
Full steam ahead to Brazil!