Winners and losers from Nigeria's international window

Spain 'too often usher the ball' to Adama Traore (1:32)

Ale Moreno delves into why Spain's style of play may be preventing Adama Traore from showing his true talent. (1:32)

Most of the conversation around Nigeria entering the international window centered on the new players joining the squad, especially the two -- Kevin Akpoguma and Cyriel Dessers -- who had switched nationality to play for the country of their parents.

After two match days against difficult opponents, Algeria and Tunisia, five of the eight had seen action and all but one provided excitement for the future. Frank Onyeka, the lone one who did not, still showed enough glimpses of potential and will certainly have other opportunities to find his footing.

Going into the games, Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr told ESPN that he had three objectives for his team ahead of two Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers in November.

"I want to see good football," he said. "I want to see the same spirit we had a long time before in the last games.

"I want to see also new faces. We have, like you know, eight new players invited in the list of 26, so it will be interesting to discover these players. We already saw a little bit in the training sessions, but the game is different.

"We are preparing for Afcon and we look also to the World Cup, so these two games are like tests for the players. The result is not the most important. It is the preparation for the future."

So, play good football, assess his new players and prepare the team for a series of tough, upcoming games.

Fair enough.

We also assess Nigeria, based on Rohr's yardsticks.

Playing good football

That, we most certainly did not see. While the team did started well against Algeria, they failed to find cohesion and for the most part, struggled to escape the high and intense press of the north Africans.

Passes went astray way too many times and the midfield looked all but non existent. Shorn of his all his first-choice midfielders, Rohr chose to go with centreback Semi Ajayi and newcomer Onyeka.

It simply did not work.

Everton's Alex Iwobi looked the only player capable and willing to progress the ball or create opportunities. And it is hard to blame the other two. One is a natural centreback (yes, he has deputised at midfield in the past but not at a level this high) and the other is a rookie playing his first senior international.

It is no surprise that Onyeka was left out of the second game, and Ajayi did not fare any better. He did not seem quite sure whether to sit and protect the back four, or range upfield chasing players.

The team struggled to play together for long patches of the two games and Nigerians were understandably less than impressed.

Assess new players

Of the eight new players in camp, Super Eagles fans got to see five -- Dessrs, Akpoguma, Onyeka, Zaidu Sanusi and Chidera Ejuke -- play real minutes.

Sanusi was the most eye-catching of the lot, starting ahead of the established Jamilu Collins and only ceding his place in the second game with what looked like a groin injury. The Porto man showed composure in defence and adventure when he bounded forward, delivering the most crosses of any player over the two games.

If his display is anything to go by, Collins should be very concerned for the immediate future.

Akpoguma showed his versatility, starting at right back and ending at centreback, creating even more selection worries for Rohr to decide on his back four.

Upfront, CSKA Moscow's Ejuke only got about 12 minutes when he came on for the triple-teamed Samuel Chukwueze, but he immediately injected trickery, occasional direct running and enough danger to earn himself a second audition. His final ball may have been wanting, but there was enough there to work with for Rohr and his team.


Examining the repercussions of Ronaldo's positive Covid-19 test

The news of Cristiano Ronaldo testing positive for Covid-19 rocked the football world on Tuesday.

The Tunisia defenders, who must have heaved a sigh of relief and satisfaction at seeing the Villareal man taken off, would have despaired after their first encounter with his CSKA replacement.

Dessers also impressed, looking sharp, hunting down defenders and coming close to nicking a winner, and will certainly have shot himself up the depth chart in the conversation for the second striker spot behind Victor Osimhen.

Rohr passed on the opportunity to give Samson Tijani minutes, especially with all his regulars out. A bit of a headscratcher, seeing as he is a natural midfielder but at 19 years old, there is still some way to go and he will get his opportunities. Osimhen was in the exact same boat with Rohr not so long ago.

Testing the team

On this count, neither Rohr nor the fans will have any complaints. These were the last two teams the Super Eagles faced at the Afcon in the summer of 2019.

This time, they did so with some serious handicap - without their entire midfield and starting striker. And the results were almost similar -- a one-goal loss to Algeria, same as their last meeting and a tie with Tunisia, who they beat last time out.

Their next opponents (in Afcon qualifying) will not be as strong as these two, and Wilfred Ndidi looks the only one of the missing quartet who is certain not to be fit for those fixtures.

So Rohr did get the test he wanted.

But after all is said and done, who were the winners and losers for Nigeria?


Leon Balogun: Reestablished his reputation as one of the team's better defenders. Soldiered on with strength, advanced with confidence and directed traffic at the back with authority.

Zaidu Sanusi: Took just a few training sessions to convince the coaches he deserved to start. Gernot Rohr does not normally hand newbies starting shirts, especially when an established player is fit and available to play. That says everything about Sanusi, really.

Alex Iwobi: Hampered by those behind him, still managed to impose himself and create opportunities, including a cheeky hopping back heel for Iheanacho to score against Tunisia, and a delicious cross for Musa that led to a penalty. Shame Iheanacho missed it.

Tyronne Ebuehi: Long-awaited return for the fullback, who showed exactly what the Super Eagles had been missing in his absence; solid defending, long bursting runs down the line and overall intelligent fullback play.


Paul Onuachu: This was his chance to claim that place as reserve striker behind Osimhen, but he shanked his shot. To be fair, he barely got any service and it was something of a puzzle that with such a big man in the middle, the team failed to pepper the box with crosses, until the second game when he did not play. Doubtful now if he gets a call in November.

Kenneth Omeruo: There is an unfair characterisation of the Leganes man as prone to error, and allowing himself to be beaten with ease on the byline for Tunisia's goal only served to enhance that notoriety.

Frank Onyeka: Like Onuachu, had the opportunity to take advantage of key absences to set his marker. Looked lost instead. But there is hope yet. Playing in the Champions League with Midtylland means he will garner the experience and confidence he needs to make a second run at it.

Dele Alampasu: Former cadet world champion goalkeeper, who would have come in expecting to at least get some minutes to kickstart his fight for consideration in the goalkeeping huddle. Never saw any minutes.

Final thoughts: Gernort Rohr

"We are happy to have had this opportunity to be camped in Austria for 10 days. It was a very good feeling to be together again after being away for 11 months, although we missed some key players," concluded Rohr.

"The two friendly games we played were very good competitive games. Algeria and Tunisia are very good teams. Indeed, the results could have been better. We could have picked a draw against Algeria and a win against Tunisia.

"We have some positives to pick out from the games because inspite of missing some key players we still competed well. Now it is going to be difficult for me to pick our list for the AFCON qualifiers next month because of the new boys who did well.

"I believe these very good friendly games will help us to return to winning ways when we play Sierra Leone next month. Good results next month may see us qualifying for the 2022 AFCON already."