Nigeria’s Super Eagles scrambled a draw against much-fancied Senegal in a friendly at a very cold Barnet FC’s The Hive Stadium in northwest London.
Both sides needed the warm-up game in preparation for the more serious 2018 World Cup African qualifiers. Nigeria’s German coach Gernot Rohr was missing key players such as Victor Moses and goalie Carl Ikeme and Senegal immediately took control of proceedings from kick off, despite star player Sadio Mane starting on the bench.
Even without the Liverpool forward, who is arguably the best African player at the moment and whose £34m transfer fee from Southampton is the highest for an African player, Senegal still had a lot of quality, which was why many observers were surprised that they didn’t go very far in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations. West Ham’s Cheikhou Kouyaté, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, who has been linked to Chelsea, and Mame Biram Diouf just seemed to have too much quality and physicality for the Nigerians.
Despite the absence of Moses from injury, which was lamented by several Nigerians at the ground, the Super Eagles still had enough quality to make a difference in Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, Manchester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho and the Leicester duo of Ahmed Musa and Wilfred Ndidi.
But Iwobi, whose parents were among the 2,013 crowd, was off colour on the night. He was not his usual inventive self. Musa continued to show why he can’t hold down a regular place at his club, and it was the same story for Iheanacho until the 80th minute when he made the significant intervention that led to the penalty, which he converted for Nigeria’s equaliser.
The Nigerians recovered their composure after a shaky start and controlled the game in the ten minutes or so before the interval. Ndidi started imposing himself a bit more at the base of midfield and John Ogu, who came on for the injured skipper Ogenyi Onazi after 25 minutes, brought in some much-needed stability with his physicality, although his square balls brought back memories of the departed to China, but not missed, Mikel Obi.
Moses Simon from Gent in Belgium also started stretching the left flank of the Senegal defence, even though his final ball left a bit more to be desired.
Senegal started the second half better and were rewarded when Moussa Sow capitalised on an error from goalie Daniel Akpeyi, who had been shaky all night like a Daniel in the lion’s den. The introduction of Mane after 65 minutes gave the Nigerian defence and their fans more jitters as the man from Anfield lit up the night with his touch, passing and clever movement.
But Ndidi kept growing in stature as the night wore on and the Nigerian central defensive partnership of William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun put in a solid display to prevent Senegal going further ahead. As the Nigerians kept probing for an equaliser, Iheanacho made a late run and was brought down inside the box in the 80th minute. He expertly dispatched the penalty hard and low in the left hand corner to an almighty eruption from the Nigerian fans in the stadium.
The Nigerians will be back at The Hive on Monday night to face Burkina Faso. Coach Rohr would be hoping for much improvement then and even more so when they lock horns at home to massive rivals and neighbours Cameroon in World Cup qualifiers on 28 August. He will also be hoping the scan on Onazi’s injury doesn’t reveal anything serious.
It would also be nice if more Nigerians in the UK showed up to support their team on Monday. Troost-Ekong was absolute class after the game last night as he stayed on for several minutes, mingling with fans and taking selfies with them, long after his team-mates had disappeared into the dressing room. He showed his appreciation in a tweet after the game.
🇳🇬 Thanks for your great support! Good fight from the team for the draw. Proud to have played my 10th cap for Nigeria pic.twitter.com/xHPqX1gKMt
— William Troost-Ekong (@WTroostEkong) March 24, 2017