Nigeria and Senegal played out a 1-1 draw in what was a brilliant advertisement of Africa’s renowned power game at The Hive in London on Thursday night.
2017 Africa Cup of Nations quarter finalists Senegal started hard and fast, hoping to browbeat the Super Eagles and get an early goal, but they encountered a Nigerian squad that refused to be intimidated and was ready to give as much as it received on the night.
Kelechi Iheanacho won the first corner kick after a good dribble run, but at the other end, Adama Mbengue and Idrissa Gueye combined brilliantly to rattle the Eagles’ defence, the latter’s header striking the upright with Daniel Akpeyi stranded.
From then, Gueye, Cheikh Kouyate, Opa Nguette, Cheikh Ndoye and Moussa Wague all combined to make Nigeria sweat, but the Eagles would have gone in front on the quarter hour mark after a delightful touch by Iheanacho freed Iwobi to set up Moses Simon, whose shot was charged down.
Nine minutes later, injury forced captain Ogenyi Onazi to exit the game, making way for the big John Ogu, who matched the Senegalese in size in the middle and somewhat provided food for thought for the Lions.
Akpeyi tipped over a goal –bound free kick by Senegal in the 27th minute, and five minutes later, Ahmed Musa forfeited an opportunity for Nigeria to go into the lead after wasting a glorious Ndidi, Ogu and Iheanacho onslaught. In the 36th minute, Iheanacho streamed past the Lions’ defence, only to drag his shot too wide, and three minutes later, Akpeyi had to stretch full length to stop a fierce drive by Ndoye. Just before recess, Iheanacho missed narrowly at the end of a clever move by Iwobi and Moses Simon.
Senegal, who reached the 2002 FIFA World Cup quarter -finals, started the second half like a house on fire, winning a number of free kicks in the Eagles area. In the 54th minute, Moussa Sow profited from a poor punch of the ball by Akpeyi to blast the Lions into the lead.
Seconds later, Akpeyi had to be alert to palm away another fierce shot from the rampaging Lions, and Nguette came close again in the 58th minute. But the tenor of the game changed on the hour mark, after Nigeria brought in Oghenekaro Etebo for Iwobi and Moses Simon made way for Isaac Success.
Nigeria’s man-of-the-match Ndidi rattled Abdoulaye Diallo in the 62nd minute, and 15 minutes later, the former junior international’s clever pass enabled Success to cause anxiety in the Senegal box.
Four minutes later, Nigeria, who had won nine of 20 previous encounters with Senegal, were on level terms. Olanrewaju Kayode, who came in for Ahmed Musa in the 75th minute, burst into space to intercept the ball from the Senegalese, and then centred for Iheanacho, who drove past his marker but was brought down by Diallo. The Manchester City forward picked himself up to score from the spot.
Meanwhile, central defenders Leon Balogun and William Ekong paid close attention to Liverpool ace Sadio Mane, who came in as a substitute for the Lions late in the second half.
The Eagles effectively took over after the equalizer, and could have won when, two minutes into added time, the nimble –footed Ndidi cleverly won the ball on the left wing and found Iheanacho, whose shot narrowly skimmed away from goal.
On Monday, the Super Eagles, unbeaten since losing a Cup of Nations qualifying match to Egypt in Alexandria on 29th March 2016, will take on Burkina Faso’s Etalons at the same venue.