When Nigeria squared up with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Port Harcourt on Monday, it was much more than just another international friendly for the Super Eagles.
Knowing full well that Gernot Rohr was going to trim the side based on his appraisal of their performances in training and, to a lesser extent, in the game against the Central African side, it was a valuable chance to impress the German tactician.
With Victor Moses’ absence filling column inches, it would have been easy to get lost in that narrative and then forget the underlying subplots: Francis Uzoho’s inclusion, the absence of the Super Eagles’ primary destroyer and orchestrator – Wilfred Ndidi and Mikel John Obi respectively – and the front new-look front three of debutants Simy Nwankwo and Junior Lokosa, and Kelechi Iheanacho – who was the only familiar forward.
It’s understandable why Moses’ absence generated so much debate; after all, the Chelsea wing-back is Nigeria’s ace going into the showpiece in Russia. He also has unfinished World Cup business after his underwhelming outing in Brazil four years ago, which saw him fail to exert any sort of influence in the side.
Fast forward to today, and the wideman has probably never felt so confident and ready to take on the world, albeit figuratively.
Against the Congolese, the midfield control – or lack of it – especially in the first half was the major talking point, as Rohr’s side failed to successfully dictate proceedings in the middle of the park which consequently saw them cede possession time and again.
The inability of Ogenyi Onazi, Joel Obi and Oghenekaro Etebo to control the tempo of the match often saw the West Africans play long, hopeful balls upfield instead of patiently probing their way into opposition territory. It rendered the attack awfully ineffective in the opening half and you wonder if Moses’ presence in the side would have helped much.
The debuting Lokosa, though, showed a couple of nice touches which drew cheers from the fans who appreciated his effort and industry as he grew into the game.
The towering Simy impressed as well, especially after the break and showed he could offer the three-time African champions an alternate tactical option if Plan A fails. The forward’s physicality would prove a handful for any defence and his impressive debut performance – which saw him go inches close to scoring – was definitely a positive.
In reality, it’s hard to draw conclusions off of one game and it’s even harder when you consider the fact that the visiting side had the trio of Chancel Mbemba, Gael Kakuta and Yannick Bolasie absent.
Nonetheless, the confidence and directness of Moses was sorely missed, and Ahmed Musa’s eye-catching cameo at the end proved what sort of damage a direct winger could have done to the opposing defence.
Perhaps, in that sense, it was good for all parties that this was nothing but a friendly.