Group C: Nigeria vs Benin

19 Jan

The Africa Cup of Nations got off to the most unusal start, with most of the “favourites” being duped by underdogs. We all love a good underdog story and for a while, it looked like that was exactly what this year’s competition would have in store. The story has taken a twist and promises many more now that the usual suspects have started showing us what we expected. With World Cup rivals Cote D’Ivoire finding their way to the next round in last night’s encounter with Ghana, it’s time for the Super Eagles to step up to the plate and answer the question,

“Can Nigeria bounce back?”

Having initially played well against Egypt and then gone down looking like an unfit side, Nigeria would have to find something special to beat a surprise Benin side that comes into the tournament expected to be amongst the whipping boys. The Squirrels looked anything but an underdog side with their fantastic start against Mozambique, scoring 2 early goals, only to self-destruct and concede 2 early in the second half. With the weekend crowd in force, Benguela was set for a show-piece occasion as Benin looked to cement their place above Nigeria and the latter try to recover from their poor start.

The Super Eagles soared in the opening exchanges of the match, reminding the Squirrels and (perhaps more importantly) the spectators that they are indeed a footballing force to be reckoned with. From the very first whistle, Nigeria chased down every ball, made all the right runs and passes and were unlucky not to see efforts on target. The main threat was Lokomotiv Moscow’s Odemwingie who pinned back the defence, switching wings at will.

The Squirrels were not totally dominated and gave as good as they got. They broke with real malice on the counter and managed to get shots on target through both Omotoyossi and star player, PSG’s Sessegnon. The latter smashing a free kick off the wood work deep into the first half. Benin found themselves under the conch for most of the half and did well to hold it together. They flooded the midfield but were still outplayed by the Super Eagles who were calm in possession. Omotoyossi was alone up front and caused problems for the Nigerian centre-backs. He almost came up trumps when he broke free of Yobo with a sweet turn, only to lose control of the ball. But Yobo soon got the measure of him and displayed his true class by marking Omotoyossi out of the game.

Nigeria looked a different side to the one that played Egypt, playing at a much higher tempo, spreading the Squirrels defence and generally looking like a well-oiled machine. Yakubu came to be the eternal thorn in the Squirrels’ side. He should have buried an effort when he turned the defence and was left one-on-one with the keeper but scuffed his shot wide. He was unfortunate not to connect with any of Odemwingie’s crosses and Yakubu was even more unfortunate not to win a penalty when he was bundled over in the box by Boco. Justice soon prevailed when Boco was pulled up in the final minutes for handling in the box. Yakubu stepped up and predictably coolly slotted it home. 1 – 0

The second half begun with a scare for the Squirrels. Bolton’s Shittu, hit a free kick low and hard which wrong-footed Chitou, the keeper. Fortunately, Chitou was close enough to the ball to still make the save. Omotoyossi at the other end was up to his old tricks and caught Yobo napping for once, but his pull back was met with a shot that went screaming wide. On the next play Yobo stretched awkwardly and limped off injured. At last Omotoyossi was free. Benin almost took advantage of the loss of the Super Eagles’ rock in defence, committing more men to the attack. Their confidence was further boosted when they saw shots cannon off the bar and force saves from Enyeama.

Benin got a foothold in the game with Sessegnon pulling the strings in the middle, pinning Nigeria back in their own half for long spells of the second half. Camped in the Nigerian half, you got the sense that it was only a matter of time before the Squirrels wriggled their way through the defence.

Nigeria had that look about them again for the closing 30 minutes: playing like the points were safe in the bag and 1 – 0 was an unassailable lead. You’d think they didn’t know this is 2010, Year of the Comeback and Shock Result! Full marks for them seeing out the victory, but as they showed against Egypt, if they do that against a better side, they’ll be found out. For the Super Eagles’ sake, I hope they are working through the gears, so that later down the line they can show what they are really made of. I will concede, I don’t think they have fielded their strongest side in either game, but that’s a risky game to play.

Final Score: Nigeria 1 – 0 Benin

Man of the Match: Odemwingie

This time tomorrow will be a whole week down and 2 to go! I’m putting together my team of the week (11 plus 3 subs), why not have some fun and send us your African Dream Team of the week?

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