Nigeria asserted their dominance of Group C in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers with a comeback 2-1 win over Cape Verde in Mindelo.
The three-time African champions now have maximum points from two games which takes the group favourites three points clear of Liberia atop the table. Their 100% record so far will fill them with confidence ahead of the double-header against the Central African Republic next month.
The personnel employed for this all-important win would also please Super Eagles fans. Gernot Rohr has long been guilty of being stuck to his favoured Lieutenants whilst failing to give fringe players enough game time when the opportunity arises.
Here, his selection was forced because of the unavailability of the UK-based players due to travel restrictions. Without the services of at least eight regulars, Kenneth Omeruo, Chidozie Awaziem and Shehu Abdullahi were handed rare starts while Innocent Bonke, Kingsley Michael, and Chidera Ejuke were all thrust into their full debuts in tough circumstances.
Many top African sides will struggle in the conditions in Mindelo, therefore fielding a much-changed side without the regular midfield and attacking midfield combination was a daunting task.
It required an immense squad effort.
Bonke and Michael were paired in a midfield pivot on their first-ever appearance for Nigeria while Ahmed Musa won his 100th cap – now only one behind record holders Vincent Enyeama and Joseph Yobo.
The artificial surface caused expected problems early on as the bounce of the ball created few chances out of nothing for the hosts. But the Super Eagles controlled the tempo after a shaky first 20 minutes, par for the course, they seized the initiative right after Dylan Tavares’ early strike and stayed disciplined to secure the comeback.
Nigeria pressed and harried their hosts, profiting from two defensive errors as Victor Osimhen netted his seventh international goal with a predatory effort to prod home a loose ball after Jamilu Collins’ cross was fumbled by a defender.
The Napoli man has now recorded 13 goal involvements – seven goals and six assists at an average of one every 69 minutes – in as many games for Nigeria and is the team’s undisputed focal point going into the African Cup of Nations in January 2022.
With 15 minutes left, the visitors were gifted the winning goal after Kenny Rocha sailed a back pass over his goalkeeper for a spectacular own goal. It was fortuitous but no more than Nigeria deserved for their control and several chances.
Meanwhile, the way in which Nigeria have come through with maximum points in two difficult games with varying degrees of obstacles, calls for optimism. Pertinently, the rain-soaked conditions of the Teslim Balogun Stadium were replaced by the artificial turf and high altitude in Cape Verde, with two totally different lineups.
Rohr’s men gave a good account of themselves, as they are yet to lose a competitive game since crashing out at the AFCON 2019 semifinal, and have now won four on the bounce. The prospect of an AFCON and World Cup double-header in 2022 bears genuinely positive signs.