On a night of World Cup warm-up matches, Nigerian hearts were warmed on a cold night at the Municpal Stadium in Wroclaw, Poland with 1-0 victory over hosts Poland, courtesy of a Victor Moses penalty on the hour.
Poland with captain Robert Lewandowski, arguably the best striker in the world and with his country topping their European qualifying group and sixth in the Fifa world rankings, came into this friendly with great expectations. But it was the Nigerians who finished the match with their confidence and reputation enhanced.
The match started scrappily with both sides misplacing passes. Nigeria had the 19 year old Francis Uzoho from Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna in goal. It was a nervous start for the youngster, but he gradually grew into the game with better timing on when to come off his line and punch the ball clear. His huge 6’5″ frame was reminiscent of the legendary Emmanuel Okala, who stood between the sticks for Nigeria in the 1970s.
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Uzoho belied his size to make a save at the feet of Lewandowski in the 55th minute which must have done his confidence a world of good. The Nigerian central defence with William Troost-Ekong, captaining in the absence of Mikel Obi, and Leon Balogun, did a good job of restricting opportunities for Lewandowski and the Bayern Munich hit-man cut a frustrated figure when he departed after 65 minutes.
Before then, the Nigerians had taken the lead on the hour after Chelsea’s Moses was brought down in the box when he drifted past three Polish defenders on the left and into their area. He got up to stroke his penalty home with confidence and he was by far Nigeria’s most dangerous player.
The rest of the English Premier League contingent in Nigeria’s colours had an average night. Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi had a steady game at the heart of midfield, while Alex Iwobi from Arsenal shone brightly in the early exchanges, especially on the 11th minute with a stepover reminiscent of his uncle Jay-Jay Okocha, that ended with a cross that didn’t find a green shirt. Iwobi faded in the second half and was replaced by Ahmed Musa. Despite his so-so performance, the midfielder showed his pleasure with the victory with this tweet:
Na Sooo, Victory Against A Tough Poland Side…Up Naijaaa 🇳🇬🦅⚽ pic.twitter.com/8ykbRQWLJt
— Alexander Iwobi (@alexiwobi) March 23, 2018
Kelechi Iheanacho from Leicester was largely anonymous in his support striker role behind Odion Ighalo, who put in a solid shift on the night as he pulled Polish defenders all over the place. Iheanacho kept wanting to take over set-piece duties from Moses and on one occasion in the first half, the striker stood beside Moses wanting to take a free kick out wide on the right, when Nigeria would have preferred his poaching instincts at the end of the cross. This is something coach Gernot Rohr would need to sort out before the tournament starts in three months time.
Rohr should also work on ball distribution especially from the back. Abdullahi Shehu gives 100% at right-back, but he doesn’t use the ball well. Brian Idowu on the other flank was just as guilty of losing possession. Joel Obi in midfield showed he was no replacement for his namesake Mikel. Persistent injuries may have affected him, but he kept failing to do the simple things right. He also seemed too anxious to play himself into the World Cup squad and at times this meant not playing the simple pass to a free team-mate. He was replaced after 64 minutes by Ogenyi Onazi, who is almost guaranteed a starting place in the World Cup team.
Overall, it was a good workout for Nigeria and a confidence booster beating a team like Poland at home and in Eastern Europe where the real business will take place in June. It could have even been better if Onazi had found Musa with a pass when the Nigerians counter-attacked inside four minutes of added time. But the Nigerians in the stadium didn’t care as they chanted oles with every Nigerian touch.