Just 56 days ago, in Lagos, Nigeria’s national team, the Super Eagles, were not unrecognisable as they limped over the line in a World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde. The match ended 1-1, and the Eagles were lucky to qualify for the last round of qualifiers for Qatar 2022. That was an Eagles team that started with Victor Osimhen and Odion Ighalo.
Gernot Rohr just had to go and the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) finally saw reason and, with some expert machinations, got rid of the German tactician. Eight training sessions under interim manager Augustine Eguavoen, and the Super Eagles spread their wings and soared against seven-time champions, Egypt, on Tuesday in Garoua.
This was a team shorn of their most reliable No.9s in Osimhen and Ighalo. Leon Balogun was also absent but the team put in an energetic and tactical display and outplayed Egypt with their talismanic Mohamed Salah, who was kept in check throughout the 94 minutes.
The Eagles were very dominant, creating 12 chances, and could have, should have, scored more than the sumptuous strike from Kelechi Iheanacho that settled the game. This is not counting our eggs before the chickens are hatched, but there was a marked difference between what Rohr served and what Eguavoen is offering after just eight training sessions.
The understanding of tradition
Being a part of the very successful 1994 class that won AFCON and almost made it to the World Cup quarter-final, Eguavoen has the right perspective concerning the style of play and what the Nigerian fans demand from their national football teams.
Whilst Rohr preferred to wait for opponents to make mistakes and then pounce; Eguavoen set up his team to play on the front foot. The stats reflected the change (discountenance the fake stats by CAF). The Eagles commanded the midfield and had a plan in place for Salah in possession.
Total use of squad for tactical substitutions
With the running and energy expended by Taiwo Awoniyi in the Garoua heat, Eguavoen was not afraid to send on Sadiq Umar for his national team debut and also Kelechi Nwakali as the Eagles held on for the last few minutes as the Pharaohs pushed forward for an undeserved equaliser.
ALSO READ: AFCON 2021: Nigeria 1-0 Egypt: Iheanacho gives Eagles excellent start
Samuel Chukwueze was billed to be one of the star men, but after a lackadaisical display for 72 minutes, Eguavoen withdrew him and sent on Chidera Ejuke, who produced two goal-bound shots that needed saving.
Freedom for the wingers
Wingers under Rohr needed to perform more defensive duties, but Eguavoen gave the two Nigerian wingers-Moses Simon and Chukwueze the platform to play on the front foot and that allowed Simon to become the lynchpin for many Eagles’ attacks down the left.
This also allowed the fullbacks, in Ola Aina and Zaidu Sanusi, to join the attack as there was always space to attack with the wingers hugging the touchline as much as possible. That excellent 1994 team had Finidi George and Emmanuel Amuneke down the right and left flanks, always stretching the play and creating goal-scoring chances.
It is just the first game, but long may it continue as Eguavoen has freed the Eagles from Rohr’s shackles.