Nigeria registered a hard-fought 1-0 victory against the Guineans at the Alexandria Stadium in Egypt. It was Super Eagles’ second consecutive group-stage victory- which confirmed their spot for the knockout phase in the Africa Cup of Nations 2019.
Syli Nationale gave the Nigerians a run for the money until Kenneth Omeruo found the back of the net from a corner in the 73rd minute. Guinea started the match on a positive note and made early inroads in Eagles’ defence- as Ibrahima Cisse forced a good save from Daniel Akpeyi in the 2nd minute.
Alex Iwobi threatened the Guinean defence on a consistent basis but failed to provide an attacking contribution in the form of goals and assists. Amadou Diawara and Ibrahima Cisse’s industrious performance in midfield hampered Nigeria’s attack throughout the duration of the game.
Gernot Rohr’s side was rewarded with a late goal for their relentless effort to secure three points against a determined Syli Nationale XI.
Without much ado, let us glance through some of the best and the worst performers from this game.
#1 Hit: Alex Iwobi
Alex Iwobi occupied his favoured number ten role against Guinea with Ahmed Musa and Moses Simon occupying the left and right flanks respectively in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The Arsenal attacker was a constant threat to Paul Put’s Nationale side.
The 23-year-old provided fluency to Nigeria’s attack and he combined well with Musa, Simon, and Ola Aina. Iwobi forced an agile save from Ibrahim Kone with his long-range effort in the 37th minute. He floated across several positions to find pockets of space- and his movements caused the Guinean defenders plenty of headaches.
In the 61st minute, Iwobi’s curled effort was destined to land in the top corner but Kone’s magnificent save denied the Arsenal man a spectacular goal. Alex often dropped deep in midfield to generate immaculate through balls to pick out the runs of Ahmed Musa and other wide players.
After an electric performance against Guinea, Gernot Rohr must have realised that Iwobi performs best when deployed as a playmaker.
#2 Flop: Naby Keita
Naby Keita earned a starting spot for the Nigeria clash after featuring for 28 minutes in Guniea’s previous tie against Madagascar. The star midfielder lacked the match sharpness as he missed the season end due to a groin injury.
The Liverpool man was deployed behind Sory Kaba as a number ten in Guinea’s 4-2-3-1 system. Naby looked mobile in the first half as he supplemented the attackers and drove forward after receiving the ball from deep midfield through Amadou Diawara and Ibrahima Cisse. The 24-year-old induced constant fouls from Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfried Ndidi in the central area.
The second half saw an upturn in Naby’s performance as the midfield axis of Ndidi and Etebo took control of the proceedings and started to make crunching tackles. Keita’s failure to dominate the midfield also distorted Guinea’s balance and the Eagles imposed themselves as the game progressed.
Keita clutched his shin and hamstrings in pain but managed to feature till the 70-minute mark when he was substituted for Lass Bangoura – putting an end to midfielder’s spell of getting bullied.
#3 Hit: Simon Falette
The Frankfurt defender gave Odion Ighalo a tough time by constantly monitoring his movements in the penalty area. The Nigerian striker was never allowed free space to make those dangerous runs and dominated all the aerial ball which were projected in the Guinean box. Simon conceded a yellow card for his cynical foul on Ighalo but that moment underscored his imposition on Eagles’ number nine.
Falette developed a solid partnership with Ernest Seka and they read the passing patterns of Ahmed Musa and Alex Iwobi, producing crucial interceptions with aplomb. One of Simon’s best bits in the match occurred when he ceased Wilfried Ndidi’s drive from midfield with a bulldozing tackle.
The 27-year-old was composed with a ball at his feet and picked out some telling passes from Guinea’s left side. His fluent combinations with Francois Kamano and Issiaga Sylla was there to be witnessed by everyone.
#4 Flop: Odion Ighalo
Odion Ighalo failed to build upon his terrific substitute performance against Burundi- where the striker bagged a winner for his national side. Gernot Rohr rewarded the 30-year-old with a starting spot against Guinea which he failed to justify.
The Shanghai Shenhua striker produced a tame display and was outmuscled by opposing centre-backs especially Simon Falette throughout the 90 minutes. Odion was sluggish in his movements and did not occupy dangerous positions between Ernest Seka and Falette.
Ighalo squandered a glorious opportunity to put Nigeria ahead in the 7th minute as he failed to hit the target from Ahmed Musa’s terrific delivery from the byline. It was not the only incident where the striker failed to convert Musa’s tempting final passes.
Amid all the discussed moments, former Watford man had the best chance in the 32nd minute- when he received a sumptuous through ball by beating Guinea’s offside trap. Odion was a bit selfish as he took the shot on goal which finished at the side netting instead of squaring the ball to either Ahmed Musa or Alex Iwobi – who occupied dangerous positions in the box.
With his drab outing, Odion Ighalo could find himself back on Nigeria’s bench for the next game against Madagascar.
#5 Hit: Daniel Akpeyi
As discussed earlier, Akpeyi produced a smart save in the second minute to maintain the scoreline’s deadlock. The Nigerian shot-stopper made another agile save off Francois Kamano‘s long-range effort. Daniel maintained good positions throughout the game which enabled him to make good saves.
The Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper arranged a precise wall to defend Kamano’s set piece from a promising position. Akpeyi’s well-placed shield forced the Guinean player to take the aerial route- hence failing to hit the target.
Not only was Daniel good between the sticks, but he also remained calm in ball-possession and sprayed crisp passes throughout the field. He manufactured a precise long ball in the 30th minute which gave rise to a Nigerian attack consisting of well-strung passes in the final third.
Akpeyi made a stunning save in Super Eagle’s last game against Burundi which kept the scoreline fixed at 0-0. The goalkeeper has played a crucial role in Nigeria’s back-to-back group stage wins.