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Ighalo is the toast of Nigeria right now

Ighalo is the lion-tamer as Nigeria’s Super Eagles cage Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions

7 July 2019

Odion Ighalo was on the target twice as Nigeria came from behind in an evening of pure drama in Alexandria to knock defending champions Cameroon out of the last 16 Africa Cup of Nations tie.

Ighalo, who plays for Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese league, must love playing against Nigeria’s neighbours Cameroon. He scored the first goal in a World Cup 2018 qualification 4-0 rout when both sides last met. The former Watford striker was first off the mark again after a 19th minute free-kick on the right of the Cameroon defence, which was first wasted by Peter Etebo. But the midfielder was first to the rebound and lofted the ball across the box to where defender Kenneth Omeruo laid it across for Ighalo to stab home with a deflection off a Cameroon defender.

Nigeria had settled better after kick off and were pressing well when they didn’t have the ball. Moses Simon should have doubled Nigeria’s lead five minutes after Ighalo’s goal when he cut in from the right and shot with his weaker left foot.

Watch the highlights below.

Cameroon started growing into the game after conceding and Nigerians were playing hearts in the mouth defence, especially with Cameroon winger Clinton Njie seeming to have the number of Ola Aina at left back for Nigeria. Wilfred Ndidi, at the base of Nigeria’s midfield, was not looking his usual assured self and gave the ball away in front of goal, that should have been punished by more clinical Cameroon finishing.

Nigeria also had a decent chance that was wasted by Ahmed Musa as half time approached. Musa’s decision making and final ball was frustrating Nigerians from his team-mates to the bench to the stands to millions more watching on television. But he will redeem himself at a critical point in the match.

Nigeria was to rue Musa’s poor play two minutes later when a cross from the right of the Cameroon attack found striker Stephane Bahoken in space all by himself between Nigeria’s central defence and left back. The cross was so good that all Bahoken, whose father Paul played for Cameroon in the 1982 World Cup, had to do was guide it beyond Daniel Akpeyi in Nigeria’s goal.

Two minutes later, Akpeyi was again picking the ball out of the Nigerian net with Bahoken involved again, this time with an assist. A long ball from defence was flicked on by the striker into the path of Njie, who easily brushed aside the out of sorts Aina to score at Akpeyi’s near post. The defending didn’t help Akpeyi and the goalie was in no mood to help his country.

Nigeria tried to respond immediately with Simon cutting inside and shooting with his left again. At the stroke of half there was a clear penalty shout for Nigeria when Ighalo was kneed in the back by a Cameroon defender, but the ref wasn’t interested. Nigerians must have rued the decision of the African football confederation (CAF) to delay the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system until the quarterfinals.

After the break, Cameroon seemed to be the side that wanted it more, being egged on by two Dutch legends on their bench, coach Clarence Seedorf and his assistant Patrick Kluivert. Njie was full of running and kept roasting Aina. They could have extended their lead with an Njie effort from a free kick in the 50th minute but he was thwarted by Akpeyi.

Musa continued to make the wrong decisions, passing at the edge of the box when a shot was the best option, and the Nigerian midfield, with Alex Iwobi on creative duty, were mainly bystanders in a game of such magnitude.

Coach Gernot Rohr tried to change things a bit, bringing in the speedster Samuel Chukwueze on the right side for Simon after 59 minutes. This seemed to have created some space for right-back Chidozie Awaziem, who sent a pin-point cross to Musa in the 63th minute. This time, Musa’s decision to chest the ball towards Ighalo was spot on. The striker let fly with his left foot and the ball was nestling in the net before goalie Andre Onana could react.

Before Cameroon could recover from the shock of conceding, it was their turn to be caught by a sucker punch two minutes later. Ighalo received the ball and with a smart turn to his right, placed a pass between the legs of a Cameroon defender for Iwobi to slot home first time.

Ighalo could have had a hat-trick but was twice denied by Onana, one was a curler to the far post and the other a header that the Ajax keeper managed to claw out as it nearly went over the line. There were chances at both ends as Nigeria played on the break, trying to defend their lead, with Cameroon going for broke. A William Troost-Ekong mistake nearly gifted the Lions their equaliser, but Omeruo, who has been growing in stature in this tournament, was timely with his intervention.

Nigeria managed to see out the game with late substitutions, Paul Onuachu coming on for Ighalo after 84 minutes and a defender, Leon Balogun replacing Iwobi in injury time.

It was a thoroughly rewarding evening’s work for Ighalo, who has three goals in this tournament, making him currently the joint top scorer alongside the more celebrated Sadio Mane of Senegal, despite sharply dividing opinion among Nigerian fans. He may miss a few, but Ighalo is without a doubt the most accomplished finisher among the current crop of Nigeria internationals with 14 in 32 matches. The Nigerian front-man has scored goals wherever he has played from Watford in England to Granada in Spain to China. He will fancy his chances against the South African defence on Wednesday in Cairo’s quarter final. Ighalo said after his lion-taming session that “we will go all the way”.

With him in this kind of form, anything is possible for Nigeria

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