Written by Uche Abugu
The coterie of players – all brawn, biceps, triceps, pace and power, made their roar audible from 10k miles away – reigning AFCON Champions, Confed Cups participants…our palms sweaty, knees weak, legs buckle, heart racing- lord Voldemort? Not at all Harry, it’s the indomitable lions of Cameroon going against Nigeria in the crucial Russia 2018 qualifier.
Like the story of a mouse that started roaring like a lion – we all know it didn’t end well with it. The Cameroonians fresh from their Confederations cup exploits was on a smash and grab mission, to take at least a draw back to Yaoundé and feast on the remaining 3 points at home. The melancholy after the match, distraught and embarrassment was indescribable, stark contrast to their singing and dancing after training sessions. The numbers told this story – possession, shots (on & off target), dribbles and goals.
A most gripping watch, kick off was heralded with the eagles all over the place. Leon Balogun’s 2nd min back pass that was almost latched on by Aboubakar, wasn’t the best of starts. With a 4-2-3-1 formation Ogenyi Onazi brought his A-game, bossing the midfield with Leicester City’s work horse, Wilfred Ndidi. It was 6s and 7s in the first quarter, as Aboubakar threatened, while Victor Moses was left isolated. Ighalo was CF, Captain Mikel Obi played in the hole behind Ighalo and was the link between midfield and attack. Ighalo, maligned after his shambolic displays during his last appearances was welcomed back into the fold.
The real action started when Aboubakar made a darting run on the flanks, but was stopped by Ndidi on the stroke of 15mins. Simon Moses with his pace and tricks, combined very well with Ndidi who was all over the park – First shot, Simon dummied the defender, gave to Mikel, passing to Moses, fluffed his shot went wide. Ighalo at his technical best, controlled passes and made runs behind the Cameroonians back line at will. They unsettled defenders, brought him down, the resultant free kick put in the net – the refs adjudged it to be interference by Ighalo. Tip of the ice berg, minutes later a quick inter passing between Mikel and Simon Moses who beat his marker, flung in a cross and Moses’s header was close, though on the net roof. Two yellow cards to Adolphe Teikeu and Ngadjui in quick succession showed how much the tide had turned, as the Eagles started driving the knife deep into the Cameroonian hearts. The clearance by Moukanjo was met by a head – pass to Mikel by Ekong, an orgasmic looping ball to Odion Ighalo who muscled out Teikeu, faked a shot with his right leaving him for dead – slotted it home with his left foot- Goalazo numero uno! Mikel sees passes no one else does – the imagination!
Victor Moses was a torn in the flesh creating spaces, side footing the opponents at will…he was simply a nightmare on Elm’s street- they actually looked scared at some point to go near him. At the stroke of 25 minutes Christian Bassogog got on a quick counter, Leon the ball playing defender, shaded him to the corner flank, dispossessed him with a well-timed sliding tackle him, looked up like a bonsai artist and found Mikel with a pin point pass. The Champions league winner laid a true ball to Moses Victor who ran 20 yards only for the low cross to be deflected out of play. The resulting corner was taken by Moses, Odion side- stepped and dummied his marker as the ball bounced in the 6 yards area- none else but El Capitan…side footed the ball into the far top left corner – and the Eagles were 2-0 up.
Our Chinese soup- felt like one, smells like one, and when you put your tongue on it, surely tastes better than we thought – Tianjin Teda, mixed in Changchun Yatai; yummy.
The lions started the 2nd half frantically as expected in a bid to cut the deficit. Ngameleu was substituted for Choupo Moting – the attacking midfielder that plays for Stoke City. His passing ability and ball control was worrying the eagles, with Ndidi & Ekong making frantic clearances. Choupo Moting coming on and refreshed Bassogog and their midfield, as they looked to return the courtesy of what his mates had endured thus far, but the back line held their nerves, for seemingly almost as soon as he came on, Moting pulled a hamstring – shame as it would have been a battle to relish – Leon Balogun and Ekong! George Manjeck, Benjamin Moukanjo, all became flat footed again in the middle of the park, as Nigerian denied them possession.
But it was Moses’s first goal and Nigeria’s third that had everybody in a meltdown. 53rd minute, at the edge of the Nigerian box, Leon’s clearance found Mikel, who lays it on the run for Victor Moses…he runs 40 yards leaving his marker in his trails, Simon with his pace was able to do ‘keepy uppy’ on the right flank, on getting to the box, Moses rolled the ball to Simon, who beat his man, gave a diagonal pass back to Moses behind him, and the Chelsea WB placed a beautiful low Lampard-esq curler into the far net, leaving the goal keeper scrambling for green substances.
The streets of Uyo reverberated all the way to Ikeja and Kano. That broke the resolve of the Cameroonians – they were deflated, the downside too steep, upside yet harder to see.
And it must have been painful viewing for indomitable lion’s boss, Hugo Broos as he cut a tired figure at Godswill Akpabio stadium beholding the Chelsea ace fire in a goal and an assist.
While Leon Balogun made life very difficult for Aboubakar, Iheanacho was brought on for Ighalo who picked a niggle. Captain fantastic was nothing short of amazing, having less than 360 minutes of competitive football under his belt, after a long layoff by injury was also removed as Mikel Agu of FC Porto, but on loan at Bursaspor took his place. It’s hard to defend against numbers as the Eagles were now deploying a 4-5-1 formation with bodies in the middle denying the Cameroonians space and ball to operate. The frustration was demonstrated by Aboubakar who flung his arms up in the air- seemingly at no man’s land; lonely figure beckoning his mates to try and bring the ball forward, obviously didn’t get the memo- ’you can’t give what you don’t have’.
The icing on the cake- MOTM contender Victor Moses, in the opposition’s half did a 360 turn in between two defenders, leaving them in tatters & grasping at his shadows, stellar Ogenyi Onazi, who showed his Napoli form picked, gave him a line for a pass, which Victor obliged, Onazi outran his marker left of the box, crossed to a waiting Iheanacho….bang- a diving header and the net started dancing. The scripts have been torn to shreds, nobody saw this coming.
3points Inevitability – like a mother telling his son, you can take a bath before or after dinner – fact is you’re are still going to get wet, but you thought you had a choice- the ‘Loss’ mark in their column was sealed.
The hashtags lit off like a space mission. Indeed there was an applause for the spectacle– fever pitch shouts, the best result over Cameroon in over 11 years- 88, 89 & 2000 has been avenged.
Gernot Rohr has pulled the rabbit out of the hat- after losing to Bafana Bafana in the last match day of AFCON qualifiers. Conspiracy theorist would spice this narrative with the current imbroglio at FECAFOOT- but we all know that ‘truth has no sides’ – it was lunch time and the Eagles ate to their fill like never before.
Nothing extra ordinary, it wasn’t any ingenious tactics- an old trick well done is far better than a new trick without effect. The veterans returned, the unity of purpose was established once again and they went gun blazing. It’s a beautiful time to identify with Nigeria and its football, but the question remains- was this a flash in the pan or is the carcasses of the all-conquering ’94 being resurrected?
One thing is affirmative, there would be no floral wreaths nor red carpet for the lions nor the Super Eagles when they touch down in Yaoundé. As we prepare to hit the skies towards St Petersburg in Moscow let’s get our hoodies, sneakers and acts ready. Another page in the great history of African and Nigeria football is being written, while we hope for a draw in the reverse fixture come Tuesday- Winter will come assuredly.