A Super Eagles side largely dominated by home-based players, and supplemented by some European based stars on Tuesday evening at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium Uyo gallantly lost 2-3 to Spanish giants and Europa League winners Atletico Madrid in the maiden edition of the Gotv Max Cup.
IZUCHUKWU OKOSI in this piece presents five observations from the exhilarating match.
1. Nwakali Brothers Are Good For Super Eagles ‘Team A’ Especially Kelechi
Arsenal youngster Kelechi Nwakali proved what a huge asset he will be for the Super Eagles as he provided a wonderful display on the night and capped it off with a brilliant strike, Nigeria’s first goal, a curling shot which experienced custodian Jan Oblak could do nothing to stop from the edge of the box.
Kelechi’s passes and dribbles were marvelous to watch and it does suggest that there is perhaps a gem in him that could turn out to be that playmaker the Nigerian side had been searching for since the days of Austin ‘ Jay Jay’ Okocha.
The older of the Nwakali brothers, Chidiebere, was not bad too but the ovation was louder whenever his sibling touched the ball.
Hopefully the ‘unwritten law’ that siblings cannot play together in the Nigerian national team at major competitions will be a thing of the past.
Take a bow, Kelechi.
2. Defensive Frailties
Nigerian national teams have always been threats when attacking the opposition but it is in defending that lies their problems.
The three goals scored by Diego Simeone’s side were conceded due to sloppy defending, they were simply avoidable.
Angel Correa’s equaliser after Nwakali’s opener was a gift. Perhaps the defenders hoped he was offside but the nimble footed forward was onside and coolly slotted the ball with a low effort beyond Femi Thomas.
Fernando Torres’ header for the second Atletico goal and Borja Garces’ effort which wrapped off the evening were as a result of poor defending by Salish Yusuf’s men.
3. Partey’s Fouls
Black Stars of Ghana midfielder Thomas Partey dished out some fouls on the Nigerian midfielders and it was only towards the end of the game that the referee deemed it fit to book the Atletico man.
Partey whose Ghanaian national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia displayed unsportsmanlike behavior all through the game and was later booed by the hitherto Uyo fans who seemed not to bother earlier.
The battling midfielder hit the ball on the groin area of Dayo Ojo amongst other fouls which beggars the question what his grouse was. Reports have it that he was even cold to the Nigerian fans who hailed the Spanish giants at the team’s hotel prior to the game.
4. Usman Mohammed’s Time Will Surely Come Soon In Main Eagles Set Up
Usman Mohammed’s exquisite goal which was reminiscent of the goal scored by Austin Jay Jay Okocha at Eintract Frankfurt against Oliver Khan in the 90s in the German Bundesliga was wonderful.
Aside his goal, his second half performance underlined his defensive midfield astuteness and could add to head coach Gernot Rohr’s good headaches when qualifiers for the 2019 African Cup of Nations resumes.
Mohammed is good in the tackles, rangy and boosts of defense splitting passes. Surely the likes of Wilfred Ndidi and Eddy Onazi are ahead of him now but the former U-23 star should not be far away in the pecking order. He is that good.
5. Uyo Fans Support
The fans turned out to cheer the Super Eagles and Atletico Madrid alike.
The fans (which includes the Eagles players gearing up for the World Cup, watching from the stands) were outstanding.
It was not until few minutes to the end of the game that the fans even booed Thomas Partey for his indiscretions.
The stadium is turning out to become ‘the temple of football’ in Nigeria and as the Eagles take on Congo DR next week in Port Harcourt for another friendly, there will be an almost desperation by the fans in the Rivers State capital to outdo their counterparts in Akwa Ibom state.
Unlike Lagos fans who are a bit fickle, Uyo boasts nice set of support base for the Super Eagles. And it is encouraging.