Nigeria finished their Russia 2018 qualifying campaign unbeaten, as they played out a 1-1 draw against Algeria in Constantine on Friday night.
John Ogu curled beyond the Algeria goalkeeper from 30 yards on 62 minutes to give Nigeria the lead, but Gernot Rohr’s men suffered a late setback as Yacine Brahimi scored from the penalty spot to salvage a point for the north Africans.
Here are five things we learnt from the draw: Ezenwa should not be trusted
With first choice Carl Ikheme ruled out of this year’s matches due to illness and Gernot Rohr lacking faith in Chippa United first choice Daniel Akpeyi following a nightmarish outing in an AFCON qualifier against South Africa in June, FC Ifeanyi Ubah goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa was handed a chance in a double-header against Cameroon.
The keeper managed to keep a clean sheet in the first leg but struggled four days later at the Stade Omnisports Ahmadou Ahidjo, giving away a penalty.
That was followed by yet another not-so-convincing display – this time, in the 1-0 home win against Zambia, which sealed Nigeria’s place at next year’s World Cup.
Despite all the flaws noticed, a small fraction of Nigerian football followers still kept faith with the former Sunshine Stars man.
However, following a shambolic performance in last night’s draw with Algeria – where the 28-year-old exhibited signs of discomposure and fumbled even the tamest of crosses – belief in Ezenwa appears to have vanished – and Rohr’s moves to bring Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama out of a ‘premature’ retirement has suddenly become popular, as evidenced by the trending #BringBackEnyeama hashtag.
Onyekuru is ready for Super Eagles duty but Nwakaeme isn’t
Prior to yesterday’s tie, there were calls for Rohr to give Henry Onyekuru and Anthony Nwakaeme some playing time.
Well, both players were on the field in Constantine, with Onyekuru replacing the Hapoel Beer Sheva striker after 70 minutes. Nwakaeme failed to impress, that’s a fact.
The excuse that he lacked quality service may pop up in his defence, but have we not seen Odion Ighalo flourish under similar conditions?
Onyekuru’s case, though, is different: He went close to scoring with a curling effort. The ease at which he got past his marker before firing towards the far post said a lot about his qualities. Many would be surprised if he doesn’t get on the plane to Russia.
Rohr urgently needs to recruit a left-back
Former England youth international defender Ola Aina, who was cleared to play for Nigeria only recently, put up a somewhat average display in what was his full Super Eagles debut.
Elderson Echiejile has received criticisms over series of poor performances – and the young Aina was tipped to take the starting role from the former Monaco defender.
However, following Friday’s outing, many have moved from clamours for Elderson Echiejile to be left out of the national setup to calls for Rohr to bring in a natural left-back – which Aina does not fit the bill- to deputise for and compete with the 2013 AFCON winner.
The on-loan Chelsea player had very little impact going forward and his lack of pace was exposed.
Etebo is too good to sit on the bench
Feriense midfielder Oghenekaro fell out with Rohr over his ‘role’ in June’s defeat to South Africa in Uyo. Etebo, according to reports, failed to stick with the team’s tactics, leaving spaces for the Bafana Bafana to exploit. For this reason, the former Warri Wolves man was left out of subsequent games until last night.
By now, the fuss must have fizzled out: The diminutive player barely put a foot wrong on Friday, and Rohr must have been impressed.
Ogu deserves to start ahead of Onazi
Ogenyi Onazi is one of the Super Eagles players who has often been on the receiving end of attacks from the sports press over lacklustre performances; his continued presence with the team has quite often been called into question.
With the Trabzonspor midfielder ruled out of the clash with Algeria due to injury, John Ogu – a player who has been overlooked for sometime – was named amongst the starters.
The left-footed midfielder made the most of his return to the side, scoring a stunning goal to give Nigeria the lead before Brahimi’s controversial penalty levelled things up.