Nigeria 1-0 Egypt: A look at Austin Eguavoen's tactics, Chukwueze's role, Ndidi's leadersip - AFCON 2021
Despite the uncertainties surrounding the Super Eagles before the tournament, the Nigerian team pulled off a brilliant performance in their first game after a stunning strike by Kelechi Iheanacho secured all three points.
The NFF sacked coach Gernot Rohr just before the tournament and replaced him with Austin Eguavoen, which seems like a good move now.
The Super Eagles also had some issues with inviting players, with Victor Osimhen picking up a fractured face injury and Watford refusing to release the in-form Emmanuel Dennis for reasons best known to them.
Odion Ighalo was drafted in to replace Dennis, but the veteran striker was not released by his Suadi Arabia club.
Despite all this turmoil and rollercoaster, Austin Eguavoen and his coaching team were able to get the best out of what they had and also motivate them. Kudos to them.
From kick-off against the Pharaohs, the Super Eagles looked sharper and stronger than their counterparts, winning the second balls and duels in the middle of the park.
It was a very tactical match, though some people are blaming Carlos Queiroz for playing Mohamed Salah as a centre forward, which is valid, some credit should be given to the Nigerian coaching team.
Tactically, the team looked balanced.
Eguavoen set the team up to play a 4-4-2 formation with Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi leading the attack.
The chemistry between those two during the U-17 World Cup in 2013 was reignited as they seemed to be on the same wavelength during the match.
|Kelechi Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi pictured together during the 2013 U-17 World cup|
There was a clear attacking plan: play to the wings, with both wingers allowed to take on their opponents.
Moses Simon was the main attacking outlet.
He played very wide and maintained his position, he stretched the Egyptian defence and gave them a lot of headaches.
The winning goal was scored after finding a yard to cross but the Egyptians cleared the ball before Aribo found Iheanacho with a header, the Leicester City forward controlled the ball with his laps before unleashing a stunner to give the Super Eagles a first-half lead.
The other winger, Samuel Chukwueze, played a more narrow role.
Chukwueze's starting position, especially when we turnover the ball, is usually in the middle, then you will see him running wide to stretch the Egyptian defence, creating space for the two centre strikers.
Samuel Chukwueze's role
Though Chukwueze was subdued in attack, the Villareal winger played a very important defensive role in the match.
For most of the first half, Chukwueze was seen covering Arsenal's midfielder Elneny when the Super Eagles were defending, which made it hard for Egypt to move the ball from the back as the Arsenal midfielder was their attacking outlet.
|Chukwueze at the bottom right of this picture, covering Elneny|
There was no need to cover the wings since Carlos Queiroz decided to play Salah as a centre forward, so it was obvious the Pharaoh's would try to force play through the middle.
Eguavoen figured that out and crowded the middle when we are chasing the ball to stop the Pharaohs.
Chukwueze's defensive position means that the Eagles have a three-man narrow midfield, with Ndidi at the base and Aribo playing a box-to-box role.
Wilfred Ndidi is a natural leader
Also, Chukwueze's defensive discipline helped Ndidi play closer to the back four, blocking passing lanes to Salah and also cleaning up any lost ball.
The Leicester midfielder was very composed throughout the match.
He controlled the tempo of the game and read the game brilliantly.
He was also the leader on the pitch, barking orders and instructions to his teammates.
Ola Aina also had a brilliant game.
He was given the liberty to bomb forward at will from the right-back while the left-back, Zaidu, was more conservative, which helped the defence to contain any counter-attacking threat.
The Egyptians struggled to create any chances as goalkeeper Maduka Okoye only made one significant save when Salah was played through in the second half.
With the games played so far, Nigeria looked sharper and ready for the tournament.
Super Eagles fans should be optimistic, this is the best I have seen us play in the last three years.
We can go all the way, and if not, a semi-final spot is on the cards.