Ukraine 2-2 Nigeria: Where the game was won and lost

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Tuesday's friendly against Ukraine marked an important inflexion point for the next phase of the Super Eagles rebuild. 

With a starting 11 featuring players all 25 or under (except for captain William Troost-Ekong), this was a telling glimpse into what the future holds for the Nigeria national team.

At the end of the day, the scores were level, but an exciting, end-to-end game had ensued, and Nigerian fans got the first glimpse of a player of whom many a song will soon be composed.

Joe Aribo


In shipping two goals in a minute to throw away a two-goal lead, the inexperience and lack of game management that comes with youth came to the fore in Dnipro. Calmer heads would have worked wonders, especially after Ukraine pulled one back, but the ball was given up right away for yet another sucker punch. 

However, the other side of that coin was a coruscating counter-attacking display that really could have seen the Super Eagles go up by as much as four inside the opening half alone.

The sheer pace of the front four, with debutant Joe Aribo joining in, overmanned the Ukraine defence time and again.

In the Samuels Kalu and Chukwueze, there was nimble footwork and menace, and the latter in particular was guilty of some poor decision-making, electing to shoot on a few occasions when he might have been better served sliding in a teammate.

Oghenekaro Etebo, Nigeria


In keeping with the double-edged theme, it was both a strength and a weakness for the Super Eagles on the night.

When the teamsheets were released, it was unclear how the Nigeria midfield would be configured. As it turns out, Oghenekaro Etebo was tasked with sitting in front of the defence (at least in theory), with Aribo and Alex Iwobi flanking him.

However, while all three had good games, Etebo found himself drawn afield far too often and too readily. On a number of occasions, the hosts turned the Nigeria midfield in the first half, but were let down by bad execution on the final ball.

However, the athleticism of that midfield meant they completed a high number of interceptions, and they just seemed sharper and more switched on than the opposition. 

Gernot Rohr - Nigeria


Whereas Nigeria got back into a disciplined shape very quickly, and so made it difficult for Andriy Shevchenko's side to play through, the hosts were remarkably naive in their set-up when in possession.

As such, they lacked structure whenever the ball was turned over, which was a lot of times, especially in the first half.

This made Nigeria's counters seem almost inevitable: the only barrier to goals was the decisions of the forwards, who at times suffered from having too many options to choose from.

The contrast could not have been starker, and even though Ukraine were able to play through the midfield on a couple of occasions, Rohr's side remained largely comfortable within their defensive structure.

Ola Aina, Nigeria


Ukraine got quite a bit of joy from the full-backs during the course of the game, despite the best efforts of both Jamilu Collins and Ola Aina.

Early in the first half, both stuck closely to their direct opponents, but this left a huge channel between then and their near-side centre-backs, into which the hosts were able to thread through balls. Aina had to be alert to avert the danger on such occasion when Collins got turned, turning the ball behind for a corner.

However, in the second half, the approach changed slightly, and they sat narrower, but that led to further problems when the ball was switched out quickly.

It seemed that, whatever the approach, that weakness could never be rectified definitively.