Nigeria’s first appearance since winning bronze at the Africa Cup of Nations provided the opportunity to fine-tune preparations for competitive games.

The 2-all friendly draw with Ukraine at Dnipro Arena offered a glimpse into the new era for the young Eagles.

Quite rightly, the Super Eagles started on the front foot and looked hungry from kick off. They dictated the tempo of the game in the first half when pressing high or staying compact.

A 4-5-1 shape off the ball denied Andriy Shevchenko’s men space in central areas and provided enough options on the counter attack. With the wingers maintaining width, they were able to stretch the game when Nigeria won the ball and create lots of chances.

Alex Iwobi was the oldest member of the starting front four and certainly looked the part. He led the front press in the first half and his lively movement was instrumental to Nigeria’s attacking play, setting up the opener.

The Everton man constantly found passing options wide and central when he attacked. It is easy to attribute his confident display to his new lease of life at Everton but that’s down to the movement around him.

Iwobi found Joe Aribo’s attacking runs for comfort and looked to link up after they combined for Aribo’s early opener. The Rangers man joined Teslim Balogun, Victor Agali, Finidi George, Julius Aghahowa, Obafemi Martins and Brian Idowu on the elite list of Nigerians to score on their International debut.

Aribo looked very assured in midfield and his box-to-box presence can be a regular sight in the Super Eagles. His technical quality dovetails essentially when you consider Iwobi, Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi’s qualities in the engine room.

Nigeria played with urgency during their good spell which was personified by striker Victor Osimhen.

Victor Osimhen had a very good game against Ukraine. Image Credit: Getty Images.

The 20-year-old offers more mobility to Odion Ighalo and his harrying was a thorn in the Ukrainian defence. The Lille man needs goals to build his confidence and his well-taken penalty alongside his club form are key to him feeling like the main man.

As the game wore on, I reasoned the Super Eagles now needed to prove their technical quality against African opponents who would surrender possession of the ball. Worse was to come.

Sitting on a lead and soaking up pressure has proven time and again Nigeria’s Achilles heel, and Ukraine pulled level within a minute. The Super Eagles struggled to get out of their own half in the final fifteen minutes.

Once again, another International match has left Nigeria fans with positives but a disheartening end to the game.

And once again, Gernot Rohr’s game management has cost the Super Eagles a winnable game. The ludicrous decision to keep the starters – who had done so well- on the pitch and tire as Ukraine upped the ante; whilst ignoring new players with fresh ideas in a friendly game until it was too late affected the final outcome.

An earlier change in the front four could have kept the threat on the counter as Nigeria were forced deep.

Rohr is proving time and again his inability to lead this talented young team beyond his current contract.

For now and the upcoming AFCON qualification campaign however, Nigeria have a vibrant and hungry team. Without the sluggishness of the now-retired Mikel Obi and Odion Ighalo, Aribo and Osimhen can inspire Nigeria’s Super 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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