Nigeria went from super models to Super Eagles after recovering from that irritating Croatia loss to school all of Iceland and their -sons 2-0 at the World Cup on Friday. Perfect way to get TGIF going.
But how were the Nigerian players able to get a win over the thunder-clap backed Scandinavians despite their giant killing tendencies which came to fore in their 1-1 draw with Argentina?
Firstly, coach Gernot Rohr made the forward line much less isolated, starting Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa while Odion Ighalo, who cut a lonely figure against Croatia, settled for a place on the bench.
There was also fixing the leak at the back with Kenneth Omeruo handed a starting shirt alongside Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong, forming a back three that was complemented by Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo to give Nigeria a better shaped backline.
This defensive solidity allowed the more offensive players to express, or at least try to express themselves against Iceland. But Nigeria’s game still was not up and running at this point.
Yes, the positional shape was now better defined compared to the non-existent form against Croatia, and the Super Eagles were seeing more of the ball, too. But the team still looked timid and clueless going forward, allowing Iceland to pick up possession when Nigeria inevitably gave it up in another fruitless forward foray and threaten to score.
Iceland were direct during the first half and it was that directness Nigeria needed along with the possession of the ball in order to make headway in the game.
Clearly, this was made obvious to the boys during the half-time break and within the opening minutes of the second half, Etebo had fired a shot on goal – it did not trouble Iceland’s goalkeeper but that show of intent laid a mark for what was coming. It was also Nigeria’s first shot on target in the game.
By the 49th minute, Nigeria’s transition from defence to attack had become more purposeful and led to Ahmed Musa’s well taken first goal off a counterattack involving Iheanacho, Victor Moses and Musa.
And with Tyronne Ebuehi’s introduction in place of Bryan Idowu at half time adding some more stability to the defence and helping with Nigeria’s transitional play, Iceland’s counterattacking threat became nullified.
This allowed Nigeria continue probing the Iceland goal until Musa made excellent use of his speed off a defensive intervention from Omeruo to score the second with 15 minutes left to play and only being denied a hattrick by the crossbar moments later.
Nigeria got lucky after Gylfi Sigurdsson blasted over from a penalty that was needlessly conceded by Ebuehi, though.
The Super Eagles would need to remain even more focused when facing an Argentina side desperate to spare their blushes so far in Russia by sneaking into the round of 16 with a win in their final group game against Nigeria on Tuesday.
Also, Nigeria’s transitions could be even better if Alex Iwobi is deployed as the playmaker rather than Mikel Obi, who can not provide the same speed, mobility, and intensity which Iwobi can.
With an attack comprising Iwobi, Moses, Iheanacho, and Musa along with frequent forays from Ebuehi, their speed and agility would make Nigeria’s attacks even more direct and trouble what is evidently a weak Argentina defence.
And by maintaining that positional discipline as seen in the second half against Iceland, the Super Eagles could get the needed result against Lionel Messi and the rest of Argentina to reach the World Cup knock-out stage.