Ahmed Musa scored twice in a blood and thunder performance from Nigeria’s Super Eagles which propelled them to a 2-0 win over Iceland in Volgograd on Friday.
Musa struck early in the second half, and again midway through the period to give the Nigerians a handy lead. Iceland squandered an opportunity to make things interesting at the end when they missed a penalty with seven minutes to go.
However, it was more than the shoreline that gladdened Nigerian hearts in the stadium and back home. Here are our takeaways
BLOOD AND THUNDER FROM SUPER EAGLES
If there was one complaint from their first match at Russia 2018, it was that Gernot Rohr’s team were second to most balls, despite looking largely untroubled otherwise.
On Friday night, that was not the case. They contested everything, won almost everything and when they broke, they did so with speed and menace.
Across the park, all the way from defence to attack, players went for and won tackles. On one occasion in the second half, Leon Balogun poked a foot forward to win a pass, then got pressured into losing it, but substitute Tyronne Ebuehi was quickly there to win it back.
This was the sort of performance that endeared previous iterations of this team to Nigerians. And such was the display that even if they had lost, or drawn, there would have been little complaint from their loyal fans.
MUSA SHOWS HIS QUALITY
It has been a long couple of years for Ahmed Musa. Domestic troubles at home, woes at club level, losing his captain’s band and then his place at international level.
Many a player would have crumbled under the pressure. Not Musa.
He stayed patient at Leicester City when he could not even get games with their second team; did not complain when he lost the armband; and kept his peace when he dropped down the Super Eagles pecking order.
Moving back to CSKA Moscow revitalised the Player. He scored six goals in 10 Russian League matches, and looked sharp leading the line for the club in league and European competition.
When Rohr decided to start him against Iceland, Musa stepped up, sharp and ready.
Two exquisitely taken goals, including one where he kept his head calm to finish, and a near hat-trick when he struck the frame of the goal showed the quality of the 25-year-old.
Humble as ever, he told KweséESPN after the match: “I was lucky to score, and I am just happy that the team won.”
Talk about the understatement of the year.
SET PIECE WORK BEARS FRUIT
Vulnerability to set pieces has been a marked feature of the Nigerian team in their last four matches, as they they have conceded goals in such a manner to all of Serbia, England, Czech Republic and Croatia.
In his pre-match press conference, Gernot Rohr said those issues were being worked on, both offensively and defensively.
First, Rohr went three at the back, bringing in Kenneth Omeruo whose strength in the air was key. A midfield five also nullified Iceland’s numbers in attacking set pieces, and the Nigerians determinedly put bodies in the way whenever deliverers came through.
Even then, Iceland still produced two scary moments from corner kicks, but the pressure from the Nigerian defence denied space.
At the other end, the Nigerians created opportunities from their own set pieces, Leon Balogun’s header which went just over the bar being the closest chance.
Ultimately, Rohr got his tactical formation spot on, and of course, the work on set pieces paid off.