Ademola Lookman scored his third goal of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, and Moses Simon — who provided him the assist — came away with Man of the Match honours as Nigeria sashayed into semifinals on the back of a 1-0 win over Angola.
Simon’s trickery and attacking prowess earned him that well-deserved honour. His pace to get past his marker, the skill to sneak inside of him, the balance to stay up and the vision to see that Victor Osimhen had pulled away two defenders before laying they ball for the arriving Lookman was proof indeed of this pudding.
Here are some more takeaways from Nigeria’s big win to continue their AFCON run:
1. A grudge settled
In a tournament that appears to have become one of a run of grudge-settling for Nigeria’s Super Eagles, they marked their progress to their 15th semifinal in 19 appearances by settling another score.
Côte d’Ivoire, who have beaten them on multiple occasions in the tournament, were dispatched in the group phase. So were Guinea Bissau, who came over to Nigeria and embarrassed the Eagles in front of their home fans. And then there was Cameroon, who have inflicted a litany of deep cuts on the Super Eagles in Afcon Final games.
Angola were the next on the list. One of the Super Eagles biggest heartbreaks came in 2005 when they were denied a ticket to the World Cup by the Palancas Negras, and this was a proper score that they needed to settle, having not met again since then.
And so in putting the Antelopes away, and denying them the chance to reach a first ever AFCON semifinal, the Super Eagles Class of 2024 took some measure of satisfaction for their predecessors.
Angola were also the opposition when Nigeria midfielder Samuel Okwaraji collapsed and died during a 1990 World Cup qualifier in August of 1989 in Lagos. This victory in some ways also served as a memorial to the fallen hero.
2. What’s up with Peseiro’s personnel management?
During his pre-match press conference, Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro told reporters he had so much confidence and belief in all of his players, he wished he could play them all. His actions throughout this tournament, however, belie that claim.
It took the Portuguese manager until the 80th minute to make his first substitution, by which time Angola had already made four. That was Alhassan Yusuf for Alex Iwobi, who was so gassed at the time he was already misplacing passes. His next sub didn’t come for another seven minutes: Joe Aribo for Frank Onyeka.
Victor Osimhen, who was looking so leggy that he was bending over, didn’t get subbed out until the 90th minute.
If Peseiro says he trust his players, then depending on his starting 11 for so long in the game when he has capable deputies, belies that declaration. He needs to give the others a chance to get more significant minutes. Unless he doesn’t trust them to manage the game when the lead is slim, because that is what his actions say.
3. When will we see Iheanacho or Moffi?
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That remains as true as ever, especially with this Super Eagles team, both in their tactics and the personnel executing it. But it is head scratching that of all the players who have not seen so much as a minute of action, Kelechi Iheanacho and Terem Moffi are the two at the top.
This point is a direct follow-up to the previous one. Both are very talented forwards, and while Iheanacho does not have Osimhen’s work rate and high press, his hold-up play and ability to strike from range with next to no backlift should be a valuable asset in those final stages of the game to keep the defence on their toes.
Moffi’s speed is also another asset that should prove valuable in those circumstances. But hey, the team is winning, so Peseiro gets the final word.
4. It has to happen for Osimhen soon…
Once again, Victor Osimhen had multiple opportunities to get himself on the scoresheet and just failed to.
His header from a Frank Onyeka lift in the first half went high, and then he saw goalkeeper Dominique beat away another header. With the game petering down, he had another header ruled out for offside and then saw himself denied by a block from Jonathan Buatu.
Is Nigeria’s fitness levels the key to winning AFCON?
ESPN’s Colin Udoh believes that the secret to Nigeria’s success at AFCON thus far has been their fitness levels.
At some point, it has to come through for the reigning African Player of the Year, surely?
But he was not the only one being denied opportunities. The Super Eagles create multiple chances per game but just fail to make them count. Early in the second half, Zaidu Sanusi flashed a shot over the bar, and Calvin Bassey also headed over.
In the end, Lookman’s goal proved enough but the Super Eagles need to start taking these chances in the semifinal, and — if they make it there — the final.
5. Defence the shining star for Nigeria in this AFCON
It was another masterclass in defensive discipline from Nigeria. Angola came into the tournament as the competition’s leading scorers, and boasting the second highest scorer in Gelson.
Their coach promised to throw the kitchen sink at Nigeria in order to get at least a goal. But, as they have done all tournament, the Super Eagles shut all that down, allowing the Antelopes just two shots on target all game, and frustrating Gelson so much he picked up a yellow card.
Once again, WIlliam Troost-Ekong was a general in that back five, directing traffic, making stops, denying shots and snuffing out danger.
The unyielding spirit of this team’s defensive effort, which starts all the way from the top and the high intensity style that they play, could be what takes them all the way.
First appeared on www.espn.com