”We were a bit nervous somewhere in between the match” The speaker of Nigeria’s house of Representatives, and also leader of the Federal government delegation to the AFCON, Femi Gbajabiamila had said to the players, before announcing their rewards for advancing to the quarter finals.
In saying this, he only echoed the sentiments of most Super Eagles fans who wondered whether the Super Eagles had not blown it yet again after the Cameroonians quickly went 2:1 up just before half time, after Odion Ighalo had given us an early lead. But fortunately the Super Eagles rallied to come back and clinch a hard fought victory. As they celebrated the announcement of their bonuses, no one could deny they did not all deserve it, but perhaps some more than the others?
Here we count down the most valuable players so far in the tournament.
Immediately after Ighalo scored his second against Cameroon, Nigerian fans who had hitherto subjected the often inconsistent striker to the vilest of abuses quickly took to Twitter to apologize, or rather ‘forgive him of his sins’. Past missteps were obliterated from memory in the presence of a fantastic match winning performance. It seems Ighalo has grown into the tournament and that Nigeria’s hopes of going all the way would depend in part on the form of the China based forward. His two goals against Cameroon will stick long in the memory of Nigerians.
The oft-loaned Chelsea player has continued to justify his inclusion ahead of the error-prone Leon Balogun with battling performances at this years AFCON. Assured, commited and strong, Omorue has proven to be Nigeria’s best defender so far, a major reason for the solidity of Super Eagle’s defence
Ighalo may have scored Nigeria’s first goal against Cameroon, but it took a persistent effort from Etebo for it to happen, thanks to his forward runs and aggressive pressing. Before the round of 16, he had 34 recoveries under his belt — the highest for any player in the group stage.
Ndidi is quite simply a rock at the base of the midfield, and a consistent one at that. He has been on form throughout the tournament, breaking down opposition play and distributing the ball efficiently. His most significant appearance, however, was in the match against Guinea, where he consistently regained possessions, broke deadlocks and delivered passes.
Many Nigerians were agitated by the decision to start Moses Simon ahead of Villareal’s Chukwueze against Cameroon and that concern appeared to be justified by a lethargic performance by the Belgium based player. But immediately he was substituted for Chukwueze, the transformation on the game was immediate and dramatic, as Chukwueze was able to stretch the Cameroonian defence and terrorize them down that right side. There’s no doubt that his introduction certainly helped in the Super Eagles in eventually clinching the win.