Nigeria 2-0 Chad: Debutants impress as Super Eagles stutter to victory

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Nigeria scored twice in the second half to beat Chad and get their qualifying campaign for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations off to the perfect start.

The performance itself was anything but perfect, though; still the game thankfully lacked the topsy-turvy feel to last September’s 3-2 home loss to Congo in Calabar, one which desecrated a formidable home record for the Super Eagles.

Stephen Keshi handed debuts from the start to William Troost-Ekong, Anderson Esiti and Kingsley Madu. Babatunde Michael got his first start for the national team since an Ogenyi Onazi piledriver broke his hand at last year’s World Cup, while Aaron Samuel got the nod in attack ahead of Odion Ighalo.

There was very little of interest in this game: the better team won, but tried its level best not to for the most part, while the plucky Chadians defended well and kept the score down as their coach Emmanuel Tregoat had said they would.

The Super Eagles were set up in a 4-2-3-1, with Esiti partnering Onazi in front of the defence. Babatunde took up high positions and played in the pocket of space between the centre-back and full-back, something of a ‘central winger’, roving laterally from flank to flank.

Keshi’s side focused most of their attacks on the right side in the first half, which was strange since Leon Balogun is the less comfortable of the two full-backs in possession. He struggled consistently to bring the ball under control, on two occasions notably running it straight out of play, and was rushed in his clearances.

That said, he did inadvertently fashion Nigeria’s best chance in that first period: his hoof to the opposite flank fooled the Chadian right-back, Madu came steaming forward from left-back and squared for Gbolahan Salami, whose finish was saved by the onrushing goalkeeper.

Chad were not satisfied to simply sit deep and contain though. They varied their pressing scheme intelligently, picking moments to press in midfield. They caused a few problems, twice nicking the ball off the inattentive Onazi; on one of those occasions, Troost-Ekong was on hand to deflect the final effort away with his knee as Vincent Enyeama lay sprawled.

The 21-year-old had a good game on his debut, adding raw physicality to the backline alongside Kenneth Omeruo.

He was guilty of a few nervy moments though, including making a mess of clearing a throw-in and gifting Chad their best opening of the game – an indicator that this level is perhaps a tad too high for him. Fittingly, it was the most experienced head in the team who came to the rescue: Enyeama marking his 101st cap with a reminder of his enduring brilliance and repaying the earlier favour.

Enyeama |  Guaranteeing a goalless first half

Keshi’s substitutions changed the course of the game to some degree in the second period. It is arguable though that he was simply correcting errors in his selection to begin with: Babatunde is a willing runner, but lacks the guile to be useful against a defensive opponent, therefore the elusiveness of Rabiu Ibrahim would have been wiser from the start. Similarly, Odion Ighalo replacing Aaron Samuel was a no-brainer, as the China-based striker looked off-colour on the day, and is in all respects a less effectual forward.

Ighalo set up the opener just after the hour mark with his first touch, then won and converted a penalty for the second, but what really turned the game was the change of attacking emphasis to the left side.

It brought to the fore Madu, 19 and making his bow with the national team, a truly modern full-back in every sense of the word. Aside maximum points, the former Flying Eagles player was the bright spot in this game, and while it is risky to make summations on the back of one game, it is hard not to get excited by him.

Esiti similarly was excellent in front of the defence, proving the pre-match concerns unfounded; it was not he who needed to have his hand held, rather it was the more experienced Onazi who blew his top and earned a red card for a stupid shove with ten minutes to play. The Lazio man failed to assert himself or offer leadership in the middle, and looked lost without regular partner John Obi Mikel.

A parting mention for Salami, whose well-taken goal opened the scoring in Kaduna. The Warri Wolves man played perhaps his best-ever game for the national team, and was a constant threat with his direct, powerful running. He is one of Keshi’s favourites, a group whose constant involvement with the Super Eagles has proved a sore point for fans. His goal will go some way toward serving as vindication.

So too will the result, but as for the performance, there is little to suggest that the good times are any closer to returning under the stewardship of the Big Boss.

Goal. Com – culled from : http://www.goal.com/en-ng/news/4078/exclusives/2015/06/13/12692432/nigeria-2-0-chad-debutants-impress-as-super-eagles-stutter?ICID=HP_HN_3

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