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Five things we learned from Nigeria’s win against Iceland

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Nigeria’s forward Ahmed Musa and teammates celebrate their victory at the end of the Russia 2018 World Cup Group D football match between Nigeria and Iceland at the Volgograd Arena in Volgograd on June 22, 2018. Mark RALSTON / AFP

Ahmed Musa produced an outstanding performance to put the Super Eagles in the path of qualification to the second round. The Super Eagles after their opening game loss against Croatia had to win to stand a realistic chance of qualification to the next round. Gernot Rohr’s men struck in the second half to defeat Iceland 2-0 at the Volgograd stadium that was crackling with energy.

Ahmed Musa pays faith with record-breaking brace
The Man. The Myth… The Legend. The best mental image that describes Musa after his feat is one with forward turbaned, riding majestically on the back of a camel into the sun as he waves us his subjects. For we are unworthy of his brilliance. The opener was as exquisite as they come, Musa brought down Moses’ cross into the box from the air with his stretched foot before he hit a beautiful half-volley past Hannes Halldorsson. It was a sheer delight, a beautiful moment etched into the annals as he became Nigeria’s highest goal scorer at the World Cup.

It was Musa in all his splendid glory for his second goal. He raced onto the ball beating Ari Arnason for pace before he checked in to dribble past goalkeeper Halldorsson. The forward seemed to stop time afterwards, he was unusually calm after he took the touch past Halldorson, he turned goal-ward, was with razor-sharp focus as if muting Kelechi Iheancho, who was bellowing and visibly gesturing for a pass. Musa after picking his spot, gently but convincingly stroked the ball past the two covering defenders on the goal line. It was reminiscent of his excellent performance in the last World Cup against Argentina where he scored a brace. Certainly, he is odds on to start the match and perhaps get a goal in the final group stage game against Argentina that could confirm the Super Eagles qualification.

Rohr’s shake up pays dividends
After the loss to Croatia, Gernot Rohr shook things up in the side, changing both personnel and tactics. The German manager opted for a 3-5-2 with Kelechi Iheanacho and Ahmed Musa playing as a pair up front. The front pair replaced Odion Ighalo and Alex Iwobi while Abdullahi Shehu, who started the first game was on the bench.

Omeruo came into the side to play as the left sided centre-back in the back three and to good effect. But perhaps, the most important change came in adjusting John Obi Mikel’s role in the side. The Captain was criticized for his lack of incisiveness while playing in attacking midfield behind the striker but against Iceland, Mikel conducted play from deep where his passing range and precision shone through.

Omeruo’s addition gives backline solidity
Kenneth Omeruo was introduced into the back line and was solid all through barely putting a foot wrong all game. John Ogu had been used during friendly games as the third defender when Rohr deployed the three-man defence. However, Rohr chose Omeruo who is a better defender than Ogu to start. He helped strengthen the team’s defence and also added a bit more quality in defending set pieces. It won’t be surprising if the Chelsea defender reprises his role for the final game against Argentina.

Counterattacking still Nigeria’s strongest weapon
It could be clearer that the Super Eagles are strongest when breaking hard and fast. Both goals on the night were from counterattacking plays that involved effective movements of the players on and off the ball. Musa’s first goal was from a cleared set-piece where Iheanacho got the ball in the midfield third before he fed it to Moses. Moses moved the ball briskly before he lofted the cross for Musa to finish. The second goal involved a clearance from deep which Musa raced onto it to produce a guileful finish.

Qualification permutations
Nigeria have their qualification in their hands and there is just one final hurdle left after the Super Eagles defeated Iceland. The Super Eagles would have been effectively out of the World Cup had they lost to the European side. A win against Argentina ensures qualification for Nigeria regardless of result from the other group game. While a draw could also see the Super Eagles go through, the team will have to hold a superior goal difference to Iceland if Iceland defeats Croatia. However, If the Super Eagles lose to Argentina in the final game, they will not qualify from the group stages.


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