Victor Moses missed Nigeria’s humbling 2-0 defeat at home to South Africa in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in June due to injury, but he returned to the national team with a vengeance to help inflict a 4-0 mauling of Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions in Uyo in the third round of the Africa Group B clash for a place at the World Cup in Russia next year.
Moses scored the third goal, but was involved in a lot more as Nigeria took a massive step towards the Promised Land of World Cup qualification with their third win in three games. But the final score was not a reflection of how the game started.
The home side began shakily and gingerly especially in central defence, with William Troost-Ekong very nervy as he nearly gifted Cameroon a goal inside the first minute. His partner at the heart of the defence Leon Balogun was more composed as rivals Cameroon, the current African champions, looked to seize the initiative.
Skipper Mikel Obi was playing in a more advanced role than he did during his time at Chelsea with Wilfred Ndidi and Ogenyi Onazi providing the midfield shield for the Nigerians. But Obi, perhaps due to the long flight from China, where he now plays, started sluggishly and was slowing down Nigeria’s play.
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Another Nigerian in China, Odion Ighalo, looked sharp and kept harrying the two Cameroon central defenders with sharp twists and turns. His fleetness of foot got both booked midway into the first half. A free kick from a foul against Ighalo from Moses went into the net, only to be ruled out by an assistant referee’s flag for offside. It didn’t seem a fair call, but it didn’t matter in the end.
Nigeria started threatening as the half wore on. One cross from Moses Simon on the right found the other Moses drifting in from the left. It was nearly a case of two Moseses being better than one, but Victor Moses, not known for his heading ability, looped his effort just over the bar.
Then on 28 minutes, a Troost-Ekong defensive header found Obi in the middle of the park. The midfielder threaded a brilliant through ball to the ever-willing Ighalo, who first held off the defender, cut inside to his left and fired a left foot shot into the bottom corner. The goal lifted the team, even though Ighalo was booked for taking off his shirt and showing a t-shirt in support of first choice keeper Carl Ikeme, who is recovering from leukemia. After 35 minutes, Victor Moses broke on the left, came inside and laid the ball on for Moses Simon, with the goal gaping at the far post, he went for the near post and allowed the Cameroon keeper to pull off a world class save.
Another Nigerian counter-attack saw Moses run through from another killer ball from Obi, following a swift turn. The Chelsea winger hesitated to square the ball to Ighalo in front of the Cameroon goal and this allowed the opposing defender to recover, sticking out a foot to turn the ball over for a corner. The second goal that allowed Nigeria to breathe easier came from that corner after 41 minutes. Moses was providing the previously missing quality on dead balls and his delivery was superbly dummied by Ighalo for Obi to sweep home from close range a rare set-piece goal for Nigeria. That looked something from the training ground.
Despite his characteristic pedestrian pace, Obi was having his best game for Nigeria, especially at decisive moments. However, they started the second half like they did the first, with complacency setting in and several scares from Cameroon including a long range effort that debuting goalie Ikechukwu Ezenwa from Sunshine Stars of Akure did well to smother. And just like the first half, Nigeria slowly grew into the second, playing on the break and having the better chances.
One such break from a Cameroon corner after 55 minutes started with Moses winning possession and driving through a Cameroon defence that parted like the Red Sea, he once again exchanged passes with Simon and then side-footed his shot into the bottom right hand corner.
Obi left with the game sewn up after 67 minutes, replaced by Ndubuisi Agu from Portuguese club Porto. Agu looked tidy with his left foot. Kelechi Iheanacho came on after Ighalo went down in the 75th minute with an injury that Nigerian fans would be hoping wouldn’t affect his participation in the next match against Cameroon in Yaounde on Monday evening.
Leicester striker Iheanacho provided the icing on the cake after 85 minutes following another Nigeria break. Moses found Onazi on the right and his cross was nodded in by Iheanacho, whose poacher’s instinct remains intact despite missing the start of the English Premier League due to injury.
Moses departed the action to huge cheers from the crowd to be replaced by the pacey Ahmed Musa as the Cameroon defenders looked to the referee to put them out of their misery. It was a humiliating evening from them against their big rivals and neighbours. What wasn’t quite clear was whether Cameroon was very poor or Nigeria was very good.
Cameroon had the lion’s share of the ball, but Nigeria just had three quality players in Ighalo, Obi and Moses who were head and shoulders above everyone else on the pitch. That quality was responsible for the 4-0 scoreline and it could have been a lot more, but Nigerian fans in the 45,000 capacity Godswill Akpabio Stadium were not complaining.