For the most part, Nigeria’s underwhelming display failed to deliver a spark in front of the home crowd. It was one of those nightmares fit for a selection of horror displays.
The few, however, to leave their reputation unabashed after the Super Eagles’ lacklustre 1-0 defeat to the Central African Republic include Victor Osimhen, Ola Aina, and full debutant Frank Onyeka.
The Brentford man was stuck in Covid isolation during last month’s international break that saw two different lineups navigate wins over Liberia and Cape Verde in FIFA World Cup qualifying. But injuries to Wilfred Ndidi, Peter Etebo, and Alex Iwobi for the October fixtures promoted the midfielder to a key role in a 2022 World Cup audition, less than comfortable circumstances for a man with only one friendly appearance – 12 months ago – under his belt.
Hence, a belated introduction to the rough and tumble of international football. Nevertheless against the 124th-ranked minnows, Onkeya was handed a first competitive start for the Super Eagles in a sink or swim scenario in Lagos.
Lining up beside Joe Aribo in midfield, the 23-year-old was shaky early on but grew into his own and was strong in his challenges while distributing well. Onyeka notably dropped to central defence in the first half, to negate the visitors’ two-man press on ball-playing centre backs Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong.
Gernot Rohr’s men had lots of possession but much of that was long balls from an under-pressure defence into the attack. This repetitive tactic meant the midfield was bypassed and left a huge gap in the centre of the pitch.
In hindsight, Iwobi’s creativity was missed while Onyeka can hold his head high in the absence of regular midfield screen Ndidi.
Karl Namnganda’s 90th-minute effort soiled an already frustrating game for Nigeria to complete a smash and grab giant-killing. The race for top spot in Group C is consequently wide open but the West Africans would be desperate for retribution in the return fixture in Cameroon on Sunday afternoon.
The better playing surface expected in Douala’s neutral surroundings slightly favours the Super Eagles, and Onyeka has earned an opportunity to impress in forthcoming tests.
After taking in eight games for the impressive Brentford on their return to the English topflight this season, the ex-Midtjylland man should be regarded as a ready-made replacement in Etebo’s four-month-long absence.