Nigeria opened her AFCON2021 campaign on Tuesday with an assured performance in the 1-0 win over multiple winners Egypt.
Here’s a rating of how the Super Eagles players performed against the Pharaohs.
Maduka Okoye: Mostly idle for most parts of the game due to the water-tight defence in front of him but he was always quick off his line to smother the ball before it became dangerous. In the 77th minute, he stood up to Mohammed Salah and warded off a potential sticky situation. An assured performance from the 22-year old. 7/10
Ola Aina: Rock solid at right full back, Aina bombed forward when his presence was needed. He had one of his best performances in a Super Eagles shirt and the fact that he’s also excellent at left back makes him an invaluable member of the team. 7/10
Kenneth Omeruo: Probably got in the starting lineup because of the absence of Leon Balogun, but he made a case for himself with his effort in cutting out the threat of the Egyptian forwardline. Hard to see him out if the squad after this game. 8/10
William Troost-Ekong: An object of serious doubt given his inconsistent performance for his English clubside Watford as well as for Nigeria, the stand-in captain discharged his duties unobtrusively but for one moment of error when he played Mohammed Salah on in the 77th minute but goalkeeper Okoye was on hand to avert danger. 6/10
Zaidu Sanusi: The Porto man lived up to his pre-tournament boast of stopping Mohammed Salah making sure his left-back position was a no-go area for the Liverpool man. He also teamed up with Moses Simon on the left wing to torment Egypt and run them ragged down the flank. 7/10
Wilfred Ndidi: Imperious as ever, Ndidi kept things tight in the middle of the park, provided cover for the central defenders and served as a launchpad for the forays upfield. He’s becoming so good at what he does that you sometimes forget he’s in the team for his quiet efficiency. 8/10
Moses Simon: Easily the best player on the pitch, Egyptian right backs Akram Tawfik and his successor Abdelmoneim will have nightmares thinking about how he ran them ragged. He also had a huge slice in the only goal of the match and could have done more damage but for his decision making. Still a top performer. 8/10
Joe Aribo: On the back of his performance, though it took him a while to get going, Nigerians can heave a sigh of relieve that they’ve finally found a number 10 who understands what the role entails. His deft touches belied the damage he did to the Egyptians and he was on hand to provide the assist for Nigeria’s goal. Hopefully he can go on to greater things. 7/10
Samuel Chukwueze: The Villarreal winger was the attacking outlet for Nigeria early in the game and his nimble foot caused worries for Egypt before his threat petered out. After 72 minutes coach Eguavoen had seen enough and pulled him off for Chidera Ejuke. 6/10
Kelechi Iheanacho: Scorer of the only goal, Iheanacho took his chance with both hands in the 30th minute after nice footwork from Moses Simon and a header from Aribo but he’d proved more than a handful even before the game and in the second half could have gotten another goal but for a slight hesitation which allowed the Egyptian goalkeeper to recover and saved the moment. He went off on 80th minute but had done enough to bag the official “Man-of-the-Match” award. 8/10
Taiwo Awoniyi: Though he didn’t score, but Awoniyi imposed his physical presence on the game and also made intelligent moves off the ball to put the Egyptians in sixes and sevens. The Union Berlin striker even had a goal claim in the 49th minute but television replays showed the ball hitting the upright and bouncing back to the grateful hands of the Egyptian goalkeeper. 6/10
Chidera Ejuke: Came on for Chukwueze on 72 mins and had enough chances to bury Egypt three times over. His quick-thinking and pacy runs each time the Eagles broke from the defence was always a source of worry for the opposition but Egypt must thank goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawi that Ejuke didn’t score. 6/10
Semi Ajayi: A late call-up into the Nigerian squad, Ajayi made a late substitute appearance for Kenneth Omeruo in the 79th min and helped to shore up the defence at a time the team was on the back foot with Egypt desperately searching for an equaliser. The West Brom big man covered well and justified his inclusion in the Nations Cup party. 5/10
Umar Sadiq: 72nd minute substitute for Awoniyi, Sadiq helped maintained Nigeria’s lead even though he was prevented from going close to the Pharaoh’s penalty area. However, he showed enough fight to earn another shot in subsequent games. 4/10
Iwobi: He came on in added time so he couldn’t be rated, but Iwobi will take delight in helping Nigeria see out the famous win.
Nwakali: Came on for goalscorer Iheanacho in the last 10 minutes but whatever he was detailed to come and do did not materialize. However, Nwakali is still highly regarded and will have further chances to prove his mettle in subsequent games. 4/10