Nigeria's 4-1 win over Niger Republic in Kigali today provided a gaze into Oliseh and his team for this tournament. While this was not Nigeria's A squad, it is the same coach and same ideas and today those ideas began to come to the fore. The dream of pacy wingers, using Simon and Musa in the A team, exploded today with Okoro and Aggreh pointing the way with explosive runs that constantly troubled Niger's defense. Niger thought it had the problem solved with the high trap after 20 minutes but Nigeria rebounded in the second half.
The ball possession, playing from the back and through the middle appear different from Keshi's approach with long balls over the top. For Oliseh, it is working the ball from deep and then finding the gaps wide to the pacy wide players. Against Niger today, it worked like magic.
Today, Oliseh showed again that he was not tolerant of mistakes. To replace a player before the half time whistle is not something usual with Nigeria's team. In fact before Oliseh, the last time I saw such a decision (bar injury) was Shuaibu Amodu sending Anichebe to the bench before interval in a World Cup qualifier against South Africa in Abuja in 2008. Already, in one year of managing the Eagles, Oliseh has taken players off before halftime on three occasions. Today, he sent Alimi to the bench before it was 17 minutes on the clock!
The above is just a quick look at Oliseh's team in Nigeria's opening game. Below, I provide the player ratings (1-5) as I saw it.
Ikechukwu Ezenwa (1) -- 3.5 -- He was excellent controlling the crosses and exhibited very confident play around his box. He was forced into one important save in the 6th minute when Alimi was indecisive and a Niger striker struck a surprise volley.
Mathew Etim (14) --3.0 -- He was not called on to do much but adjusted from wide back to centre back when Alimi was hauled off.
Stephen Eze (21) -- 3.2 -- He started slowly and gave up three free kicks before 19 minutes but settled down to make his mark in the center of the defense. Appears slow and lumbering but was a very active and determined tackler. He wins absolutely every thing in the air.
Jamiu Alimi (6) -- 2.0 -- He was very poor today. He was slow and then indecisive and almost gave up a goal very early. He was then booked in just 9 minutes. By the 16th minute, Oliseh had seen enough and sent him to the bench early.
China Akas (cpt-3) -- 3.5 -- Chima played like a captain. He was decisive and provided width going forward. In the 66th minute, he saved a certain goal when Niger carved Nigeria's defense open but Chima appeared quickly to foil an attacker who was set to score.
Kalu Orji (2) -- 2.8 -- Kalu replaced Jamiu and did his share but was not spectacular and failed to provide little assistance going forward.
Paul Onobi (10) -- 3.2 -- Paul provided steady cover for the defense and distributed the ball confidently. Paul and Ifeanyi provided the all important link to help work passes behind the NIger defense.
Mathew Ifeanyi (8) -- 4.2 -- Ifeanyi was magnificent today coordinating the middle and setting up the wide players for runs. Importantly, this is a player that can play both the long and short passes and with the keen sense to switch the play quickly.
Bartholomew Ibenegbu (12) -- 2.8 --Ibenegbu's performance was nothing to write about. Appeared transfixed in positions and a few passes badly misplaced and did not win many balls.
Usman Mohammed (4) --3.0 --Usman played barely 20 minutes after replacing Ibenegbu but did some running and put in far more effort. Had one opportunity to score but the final pass failed to come from Chikatara in the 83rd minute.
Osas Okoro (17) -- 4.6 -- The man of the match. He converted the opening goal and then assisted in the next two. A third possible assist went to nought when Chikatara failed to convert in the 87th minute.
Tunde Adeniji (9) -- 2.5 -- Guilty of straying offsides several times in the opening half when Niger began to set the trap. He suffered from very few services through the middle but also guilty of not making key runs. In the second half, however, he provided a very important assist that led to the opening goal before being substituted.
Chisom Chikatara (13) -- 4.2 -- Chisom had a spectacular hat trick but his effort, pace, and timed runs could have led to more goals if he was more clinical. This kid is a handful for defenders.
Prince Aggreh (7) -- 3.5 -- Aggreh was very dangerous on the ball with his technique and pace, particularly in the opening half. He was guilty of some selfish play in that half by seeking glory when it seemed easier to find open attackers in the box. He later provided the assist for the fourth goal.
Coaching Crew led by Oliseh -- 4.0 -- The coaches had the team playing the ball with passes out of their half and exploiting gaps in the wide areas up front. They appeared stomped when Niger responded after 20 minutes with a high offside traps. This they solved in the second half with more awareness and better timed runs.