Nigeria 4 Libya 0 in Uyo, Nigeria. That was the score as Nigeria slides past Libya for second place in the African Cup of Nations (AFON) qualifiers. Of course, that was not the only headline from this game. The big one, in fact, is Odion Ighalo completing a hat trick. It was a surprise given his anemic goal scoring for the national team and the fact that his position as the starting striker was possibly under threat. His hat trick was the first three-goal day for a Nigerian national team player since Oduamadi’s three against the hapless Tahiti at the Confederations Cup in Belo Horizonte in 2013.
But it was not just about Ighalo. In fact, he benefitted from the enterprising display by Alex Iwobi who was invigorating as the most advanced midfielder centrally. It was Iwobi’s magnificent pass, cutting out multiple defenders that presented Ighalo with the opportunity. Iwobi was all over the field and his play was notable but as much as it was the difference maker in the second half, in the first he was at times uncertain of his new responsibilities.
The Libyans were not pushovers and though they gave up four goals the second game on Tuesday in Tunisia will not be a piece of cake. In fact, for a few occasions after Nigeria went ahead from the penalty spot, the Libyans did ask questions of the Nigerian team. Those questions were abundant in the game, but the Libyans did not always them. Instead, they are questions that must be asked of the Nigeria team and its players by fans, never mind the big win. The most important is when would the Nigerian team be settled to the point that its football is seamless? Why didn’t the midfield take the game by the scruff until in the second half when the second goal had demoralized the Libyans? They are likely more.
It may well sound as if it is asking for too much. After all, Nigeria won big. But the point is that this team has enormous potential to do so much damage in the continent. We saw a glimpse today but there is so much promise.
Here is how the players rate, from 4-10 with 10 being the highest possible rating and 6 being average (ratings are a bit soft today).
Francis Uzoho (23) – 7.0 – He had little to do but pulled off at least one superior save in the opening half. For the rest of the game he saved superbly without giving up rebounds, which was a bane in his early career displays.
Abdullahi Shehu (12) – x – was not rated before he was off injured.
Jamilu Collins (3) – 7.2 -- What a marvelous first half display when going forward. In one instant, he took the great decision in lifting the ball beyond the goalie after a long 60-yard run but was denied by the bar. In the second half, however, he faded and did little going forward.
William Ekong (5) – 7.2 – As always, he was the heart of the defense covering up for errors made by others. Although he was cautioned for a desperate holding foul, it was the best that he could do in such circumstance with the attacker speeding alone towards goal.
Leon Balogun (6) – 6.5 – He had a largely quiet day. His passing out of the defense can be poor as shown, again, in this game. However, such passes did not prove costly today. Beyond those, he had a steady display.
Wilfred Ndidi (4) – 7.2 – Ndidi was good in the middle and was surprisingly eager to make several attempts at goal even though those attempts were widely off the mark.
Oghenekaro Etebo (8) – 7.5 – Etebo was very busy in the middle providing an outlet for the defenders. However, he has to get rid of the ball in a timely fashion instead of being caught repeatedly by the opponent and having the whistle as the saving grace. He ended up with having an attempt come off the post.
Alex Iwobi (18) – 8.5 –My man of the match. His passes were often creative and dangerous. Although the stats will have him with just an assist but if Ighalo had been clinical, it would have been more. His assist was remarkable with multiple Libyan defenders frozen out in one pass and Ighalo suddenly presented with just the goalkeeper to beat.
Ahmed Musa (7) – 6.5 – Ahmed Musa clearly seems more comfortable in the middle as the striker. Unfortunately, he was stuck out wide again and he was quiet until the spaces appeared in the second half as the Libyans streamed forward in search of a goal. He ended up providing an assist before being substituted.
Samuel Kalu (17) – 7.5 – This player is as nimble and as fast as any other that Nigeria has ever produced. Yet, he is stunningly individualistic. Yes, he finally had his goal but there were some decisions in both halves that would leave you shaking your head.
Odion Ighalo (9) – 8.0 – As they say “Three goals no be beans.” Ighalo’s hat trick definitely will be long remembered but he possibly could have had more if he was more clinical. Today, there is no doubt, he delivered! His second goal from iwobi’s assist was so well taken and so unlike the Ighalo of the past.
Ola Aina (21) – 7.0 – Ola came in early for injured Shehu and did reasonably well, especially defensively. Although, it must be stated that he started in shaky mood, reacting slowly to passes but he ended up playing quite well.
Isaac Success (13) – X – Did not rate him but it is notably that he was stuck out wide when Onyekuru came into the game until the last two minutes or so.
Henry Onyekuru (11) – X – Not rated but had two opportunities in 10 minutes of play. He failed to convert those two but ended up picking out Kalu for a great goal .