Benin 0-1 Nigeria
While the performance was far from great, Nigeria were full value for their 1-0 success in Porto-Novo on Saturday evening.
The Super Eagles created more than enough chances to win the game but found Benin goalkeeper, Saturnin Allagbe, in inspired form.
In the end, it was the much-maligned Paul Onuachu who netted the winner at the death; thus, ending the Squirrels’ eight-year unbeaten run on their turf with the three-time African champions consequently prevailing in the group.
What did we learn from Nigeria’s narrow, but deserved victory at the home of their West African neighbours?
- Twitter/Maduka Okoye
Sticking with Maduka Okoye was the right call
There was a suggestion that Gernot Rohr would opt for Francis Uzoho between the sticks against Benin.
Frankly, given his fondness for the young goalie, those assumptions weren’t far-fetched.
Be that as it may, the German selected the man who thrived in the 22-year-old’s absence and he performed well in Porto-Novo.
There was one tricky moment where Okoye found himself in no man’s land and Steve Mounie nearly took advantage, but narrowly missed.
That was the only questionable moment for the Sparta Rotterdam shot-stopper: he made a fine stop from Mounie after half-time, commanded his area impressively and wasn’t scared to run off his line to claim loose balls and long balls over the top.
Indeed, the 21-year-old did his prospects of staying number one no harm.
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Nigeria need an alternative solution to Zaidu Sanusi
Usually, Rohr has opted for an attacking full-back on one flank with the other playing conservatively.
While that logic is sound, questions are raised when the former isn’t thriving in the final third.
Sanusi has been a striking menace going forward since his Nigeria debut, but the Porto left-back was quiet against Benin.
His most impressive moment came just before the break — where he darted past his marker and sent a brilliant cross into Henry Onyekuru whose header was saved by Allagbe — but he offered little thereafter, partly due to being aware of Jodel Dossou’s threat.
Ola Aina was quite underwhelming as well and the Super Eagles didn’t get enough from their wide defenders despite controlling the majority of the match.
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Gernot Rohr has a Joe Aribo problem
Aribo’s role in the national team has to be addressed eventually.
The hugely talented Rangers man was, yet again, utilised in a two-man midfield and was largely anonymous.
Given he’s utilised in a midfield three or as a wide playmaker in Scotland, his strengths are barely visible in the current 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 formation.
Utilising the silky operator out wide or switching to a 4-3-3 offers possible solutions, however, it remains to be seen if Rohr makes that tweak.
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Kelechi Iheanacho was used wrongly
Having thrived lately at Leicester City playing in tandem with Jamie Vardy, Rohr strangely utilised Iheanacho in what looked to be a playmaking role.
This mistake has been made in the past which brought up questions over his best position for club and country.
The forward barely flourishes when he is leading the line or playing as a creator, so it was surprising to see him acting as the latter against Benin.
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The glass remains half-empty for Nigeria fans
Many supporters were left underwhelmed despite the late victory which extended their unbeaten run in the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers to five games.
A large portion of fans believe the team are tedious to watch given the mechanical style that’s characterised Rohr’s approach in the last couple of years.
The majority of supporters don’t feel the German will take the Super Eagles to a fourth African crown and it’s hard to argue given the continued humdrum showings.