Dear reader, ever wondered how to produce fantastic results without fantastic performances? Look no further than Gernot Rohr’s Nigeria. The Super Eagles are the first team to qualify for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations round of 16 courtesy of another 1-0 win, this time against the Syli stars of Guinea.

Much like in qualifying for the 2018 World cup and the 2019 AFCON, the Eagles got the job done with a game to spare. Unlike the qualifying campaigns though, they have done so whilst playing uninspiring football, depending on a moment of brilliance in both group games.

In my preview of their chances at the tournament, I noted the presence of nine (mostly in-form) attackers in the squad and how Rohr had to ensure balance from whatever team he selected. Two games in, the eagles have proven unbeatable at the back despite Daniel Akpeyi’s error-prone presence between the sticks.

Kenneth Omeruo roaring in celebration after scoring a glancing header against Guinea. Image Credit: Guiseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

 Ola Aina and Kenneth Omeruo have been immense in defence so far, with each providing goal contributions in both matches. Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo have also been superb in midfield, and were very key in nullifying Liverpool’s Naby Keita in the win over Guinea. Ndidi was arguably the best defensive midfielder in the Premier League last season and is at that point in his career where he wins just about every tackle he goes into. The Leicester man once again had a brilliant game; registering 100% successful take-ons, 100% tackles won and 12 ball recoveries.

Betway Nigeria
Wilfred Ndidi(L) put in a masterful midfield display Up against Naby Keita(R). Image Credit: Guiseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

 With a decent level of solidity behind, the attack has desperately lacked creativity. Alex Iwobi has only just been moved into his favoured position infield rather than on the wings but he is yet to provide a sustained level of brilliance. Rohr has not found his preferred attacking combination however, and the team has more chances to achieve that in the final group game.

Team rotation has also played it’s part, with the gaffer fielding an entirely different attack to the one which started the game against Burundi. On the flipside, the whole squad is being utilized. Having made five changes for the Guinea clash, the rest of the squad is seeing game time which is good in a tournament that every player feels involved.

 Leon Balogun, as he so often does for Nigeria, put in a tidy display alongside match-winner Omeruo. This performance is good for his confidence and it’s important that such an experienced player gets minutes going forward in the tournament.

The team can have a less-pressured preparation for the final group game against Madagascar which might just be what it needs to break the shackles of ineptness. That said, I expect to see Henry Onyekuru and Victor Osimhen in action, quite a surprise -although not shocking considering the number of attacking options- that they haven’t seen game time so far.

The Super Eagles need to find some attacking chemistry. Image Credit: Guiseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images

Despite lacking flair and a cutting edge to their game, the Super Eagles are marching on. Clean sheets in consecutive games would boost Akpeyi’s confidence in the midst of his errors, it is however, testament to the solid core of defence and midfield playing in front of him. Nigeria aren’t playing pretty, but are so far unbeatable and the team can only get better.

 They need to improve their sharpness in the final third if they want to go far in AFCON 2019. Nevertheless, the uncanny ability to win at all costs in a tournament is supremely important. March on, you gritty Eagles


Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.

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