Hours after former captain Joseph Yobo called on the new generation of Super Eagles to “rise to the occasion and lift the Super Eagles to new levels,” a relatively young Nigerian team gifted with a sense of urgency, purpose and craftsmanship pipped Les Aigles of Mali 1-0 in an exciting international friendly in Rouen on Friday.
Without skipper John Mikel Obi and his assistant, Ahmed Musa who were released to be part of Yobo’s testimonial match in Port Harcourt, the Eagles were expected to struggle at the Stade Robert Diochon. But the young team fought well and in a pragmatic manner and could have won by a wider margin.
Forward Odion Ighalo fluffed a hatful of chances in the first half, but Etebo Oghenekaro, Alex Iwobi and man-of-the-match Shehu Abdullahi gave the Eagles legs on the field in a game that, for long periods, flowed from end-to-end.
With only goalkeeper Djigui Diarra to beat, Ighalo wasted a golden chance in the 19th minute. There were plenty of great opportunities but Ighalo, debutant Musa Muhammed and Etebo could not get the ball into the Malian net before half time.
Just before half time, an error by stand-in skipper Ogenyi Onazi nearly gifted Mali the lead. But the impressive Carl Ikeme covered well.
The mobile Musa Muhammed was thwarted after a good pass by the creative Alex Iwobi in the 50th minute. Etebo was then foiled three minutes later before Ighalo wasted another opportunity on the hour mark. Ikeme saved well from a header in the 69th minute, before substitute Kelechi Iheanacho scored Nigeria’s only goal in the 77th minute, only three minutes after coming on.
Iheanacho had replaced Iwobi in the 74th minute, in-between two efforts by Umar Aminu. Another substitute, Babatunde Michael, worked out a brilliant pass for the Manchester City forward to slot past the Malian goalie.
Six minutes from time, Iheanacho rattled the goalkeeper once again, before left back Kingsley Madu came close with a shot.
The Eagles were cheered off the field after what NFF President Amaju Pinnick called “an exciting display” at the Stade Robert Diochon. “I’m quite happy with the display and the result,” Pinnick added.
Coach Salisu Yusuf told thenff.com. “The performance is inspiring and I am happy about the team spirit. Every player fought well on the field. The commitment and determination is there, and we hope to carry this forward.”
The Super Eagles will depart Rouen on Sunday for Luxembourg City, where they play that country’s senior team on Tuesday night.
EAGLES LINE-UP: Carl Ikeme, Musa Muhammed, William Troost Ekong, Leon Balogun, Kingsley Madu, Etebo Oghenekaro (Babatunde Michael, 61’), Ogenyi Onazi (Raheem Lawal, 70’), Shehu Abdullahi (Gbenga Arokoyo, 88’), Alex Iwobi (Kelechi Iheanacho, 74’), Odion Ighalo (Brown Ideye, 61’), Moses Simon (Umar Aminu, 61’)