Nigeria, losing a game under Gernot Rohr, was not unexpected but to do so in a competitive game at home was a shock. The 0-2 loss to South Africa at a venue where Nigeria has repeatedly underwhelmed, now puts Nigeria in danger of missing out in a third consecutive Cup for African Nations (AFCON) finals. The manner of defeat was deflating. Nigeria did not record a shot on goal until the dying minutes, besides two crosses that the South African goalkeeper parried in the first half! Shockingly, the defeat could have been worse with the South Africans hitting the post twice and a third opportunity frittered away widely from barely 14 yards out! Nigeria dominated possession early but could not muster but two opportunities in the opening half. With Nigeria’s array of foreign-based stars it was a surprise to look at the South African list of players to find a team that was largely based at home. Yet, the South Africans with local players outwitted the much-heralded foreign players in Nigeria’s own turf. It was Nigeria’s first loss, at any venue, in a competitive game to a South African selection at the senior level and it was under a well-paid foreign manager whom the Nigerian Federation celebrated as a Messiah. Perhaps, it is time to rethink the hype and come to the realization that there are days when the tag “foreign manager” or “foreign-based player” means diddly. Surely, there are now doubts surrounding the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Cameroon in September that many Nigerians had taken as a given. The warnings surrounding this South African game had been out there for weeks and it came true in a perverse way today. Here is the way the players are rated.
Daniel Akpeyi—5.5 – Can hardly be faulted on both goals but his shocking error on a crossed ball presented South Africa with an opportunity that eventually came off the post. Increasingly, yet continually ignored, is the need for Nigeria to seek a reliable goalkeeper if Vincent Enyeama is not headed back to join the team.
Shehu Abdullahi – 6.0 – Helped to get the attack going from wide but really there was nothing spectacular about his play. However, his performance is clearly one of the best that Nigeria has seen, for months, on the wide back position.
Uwa Echiejile – 5.5 – Play was below average and he appeared heavy throughout and was lucky to escape a referee’s caution with a late heavy tackle in the opening half.
William Ekong – 5.5 – His reaction time and discomfort on the ball continues to be exposed. It almost led to a third goal when a South African attacker left him lead-footed before hitting the post in the 69th minute.
Chidozie Awaziem –5.8 – Saw a lot of the ball in the opening half and is surely an upgrade over Omeruo but there are still doubts about his pedigree. He was outwitted badly in the 71st minute and he resorted to pushing the attacker but Nigeria was lucky that the referee turned a blind eye to an appeal for a penalty deep in Nigeria’s box. Then he had three attempts at clearing the ball where he barely made contact twice and on the third he missed the ball entirely.
Wilfred Ndidi – 6.0 – This was supposed to be his coming out party as a starter but he turned the ball over at least five times in the opening half and was largely quiet. However, he had three shot attempts but none on target.
Ogenyi Onazi (cpt) – 6.2 – He was involved, at least, making himself available as a outlet and recovering the ball more than any one else on the team.
Oghenekaro Etebo – 6.5 – The best player on Nigeria’s side. He was always available for the pass and had two shots but none on target. On the second, it would have been better to find Olarenwaju who appeared open on the far side of the box.
Alex Iwobi – 5.5 – Not active and turned the ball over at two critical moments when it seemed easier to keep possession. Alex does have the skill to help but playing him on the wide positions appear to cripple rather than help the team.
Simon Moses – 5.6 – For all his quick feet and ability to get past his marker, he increasingly turns the ball over. Further, his crosses are sub standard. Simon ended up with just a shot at goal but again off the target.
Kelechi Iheanacho – 5.4 – He was on an island all day with few passes created for him. However, he just cannot hold up the ball and, thus, reduces opportunities to work with advancing midfielders.
Ahmed Musa – 5.8 – His running in the second half was too little too late. However, he ended up having the only Nigerian shot at goal that was not a cross when an exchange with Etebo set him free but he hit the keeper with the ball.
Kayode Olanrewaju – 5.5 – He did not see much of the ball in the 20 minutes in which he was on the field.
Victor Osimhen – X – He was on the field too briefly to be rated.
Coaching crew – 5.0 – The coaching crew lacked ideas today. First, it was surprising that a team at home had just one advanced striker when South Africa opted to rarely pressure the ball. Then the second goal that the team conceded was elementary and shocking with a South African player running with the ball, with no defender on sight, for half the field before scoring. There was no defender tactically placed between the goalkeeper and the South Africans as a safety, which is a basic tactic on corner kicks or when attacking.