COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
Given what was at stake in Uyo, it was surprising just how easily the Super Eagles took Cameroon apart.
Nigeria were rampant, hitting the African champions four times without reply to keep their 100 per cent record in World Cup qualifying going. Both sides will duel again in Yaounde on Monday, and another win will all but confirm the participation of Africa’s most populous nation at the World Cup.
While the victory was emphatic, as evidenced by the scoreline, the overall play itself was not excellent all the way through. The goals made the performance, rather than the other way around.
As such, in looking at them, as well as some of the better Nigerian chances, a pattern begins to emerge of certain crucial zones within which the upper hand was gained.
Ighalo dominates Ngadeu and Teikeu
Recalled from the international wilderness, Odion Ighalo had a point to prove. His inability to convince in attack for the Super Eagles had led to his exile, as his often static style made him too predictable.
Here though, the Changchun Yatai striker looked like a man reborn. His movement struck fear into the hulking Cameroon centre-back pairing Michael Ngadeu-Ngadjui and Adolphe Teikeu, and both went into the book for following him short and going in with excessive force.
Once this was done, Ighalo sprinted in behind for the opener, turning Ngadeu and finishing unerringly into the corner. It illustrated perfectly: the way to take defenders out of their comfort zone is to threaten them in different ways. By pulling in both directions, Ighalo completely unbalanced Cameroon.
Moses gets the better of Fai
It ultimately was a rout in Uyo, but it did not look that way for the opening 15 minutes. Cameroon started very brightly, preventing their hosts from playing through the centre of the pitch, and Gernot Rohr’s charges struggled to advance the ball into the attacking zone.
Wilfred Ndidi was forced to hit overly ambitious through balls, but there was a noticeable lack of fluidity.
However, John Obi Mikel began to drop deeper, and found Moses Simon on the right to stretch the play and get the team forward with his dribbling. Ighalo’s opener put the Super Eagles in control, but up until that point, Victor Moses had been largely peripheral.
That changed when he clashed with Cameroon right-back Collins Fai twice in two minutes and came away with the ball on both occasions. It was symbolic: not so long ago, Moses would have gone down in those situations. This time, it signalled his desire, and he seized the game by the neck, setting up Simon on the second occasion, before assisting the second and scoring the third.
Nigeria counter-attack with menace
As said earlier, the goals sort of added up to a great performance, rather than the other way around. Rohr owes today’s triumph as much to his side’s ruthlessness as Cameroon’s naivety. For some reason, Broos’ side felt the need to seize the initiative in Uyo, even though four points over the two legs would have been a perfectly fine haul.
As such, they were constantly caught out. For the first, a goal kick by Fabrice Ondoa took two touches to find its way back in behind his defence. For the second, Moses stormed forward behind the advanced Fai, and attempted to square for Ighalo, with Teikeu cutting out the intended pass. Mikel prodded home from the resulting corner.
The third again saw Moses breaking forward. This time, the Chelsea man exchanged passes with namesake Simon, before calmly sidefooting home. There were a few more openings in this fashion; the Super Eagles, led by Moses – who excels at driving at the heart of the opposing defence – looked likely to score whenever they broke at pace.
Broos fails to do his homework
The saying goes that, as a coach, sometimes the hardest thing is to do nothing. Watching the game, there is a case to be made that the Cameroon boss was inadequately prepared, and even hampered his own side by discarding what had worked for them so far.
Coming into the game, there was one huge point of trepidation for the Super Eagles: how was Elderson Echiejile going to cope with tricky speedster Christian Bassogog?
We needn’t have bothered. Broos made the odd decision to start him on the left, and introduced Young Boys’ Nicolas Moumi instead on the right. The Swiss-based forward still had a few looks peeling off Echiejile at the back post, but it totally deprived the Indomitable Lions of any attacking edge, and made life easier for the Super Eagles.
By the time Bassogog was restored to the right flank, the damage had already been done.