Nigeria youngsters prove their worth in draw with Senegal as Rohr snubs Musa
On Thursday night, Nigeria's Super Eagles played out a 1-1 draw with Senegal's Teranga Lions in London. Gernot Rohr's team were without three of their most experienced members -- captain John Obi Mikel and strikers Odion Ighalo and Brown Ideye -- but they still contrived to show heart and pull off what was a more than commendable result against arguably Africa's best team.
Here are four takeaways from the game.
Youngsters prove their worth against the best
Four players in the starting XI were aged 21 or under and another four were between 21-24. That's eight players under the age of 24. Of that number, only Elderson Echiejile, at 29 and 54 caps, and Ahmed Musa, at 24 and 61 caps, had over 50 appearances. Ogenyi Onazi (24 and 43 caps) and Kenneth Omeruo (23 and 34 caps) were the next most experienced players. The rest of the starting team had less than 15 caps each coming into the game.
Yet, this relatively green team restricted an accomplished Senegal side to a 0-0 score in the first half, and when the opposition did score in the second period, Nigeria pegged them back with a goal of their own to end the match at 1-1.
Before the game, one expectation was how this team would fare against a strong, experienced and highly fancied side, especially without their captain and leader. In the end, though, Nigeria proved they had the mental strength and were resolute enough to stand on their own two feet against the best on the continent. Rohr would have been mighty pleased.
Akpeyi needs to be installed at keeper now
If Rohr wasn't thinking about it before, this is as good a time as any. Carl Ikeme is a good goalkeeper, a very good goalkeeper indeed. But his injury problems, and it must be pointed out that they're not his fault, appear to be coming too frequently and at very inconvenient moments for Nigeria.
The Super Eagles need a reliable deputy and Daniel Akpeyi has shown over two games that he is the man for the job. In fact, he could well be pushing for the top spot.
Last time Akpeyi stood in for Ikeme on short notice, he all but claimed man-of-the-match honours. The same thing happened again on Thursday, despite his arriving on the eve of the game and having no training time at all with the squad.
Rohr's apparent lack of trust in Ikechukwu Ezenwa makes this an imperative decision.
Ndidi matches Senegal stride for stride
Senegal's midfield are one of their strongest weapons. Skilled, bruising and street smart, they are not to be trifled with. And they proved it by making stand-in captain Onazi an early victim of their physical play and bull-style tackling.
But Wilfred Ndidi, already excelling for Leicester, proved his displays in the Premier League are no fluke. He matched the experienced Senegalese stride for stride, tackle for tackle and, at 20, definitely looks poised to be a mainstay of the Eagles midfeld for a long time to come.
Musa treatment unacceptable
So far in his short tenure as Super Eagles coach (or technical adviser, to use his formal title) Rohr has done a fabulous job of bringing the Nigeria team back from a low point. It may be early days yet, but three wins and a draw from four games are not numbers to be sniffed at. And, apart from Tanzania (with all due respect) in his opening game, these matches have not been against middling opposition: Zambia, Algeria and now Senegal.
But Rohr's handling of the captainship issue involving Ahmed Musa is nothing short of a farce. The manager passed up Musa in handing the armband to Onazi, who was as surprised as anyone else to see the responsibility passed to him. Rohr's explanation, according to a very credible team official, was that he wanted the team to be led out by a player who plays regularly. Unlikely.
First, Rohr chose to do it on a day in which he started the Leicester forward when he didn't have to if that was his sole reason. Oghenekaro Etebo could have played in midfield, with Alex Iwobi starting at his usual wide-left position and Moses Simon wide right.
Second, Nigeria have a long history of non-playing captains going back to Christian Chukwu, Stephen Keshi and more recently Nwankwo Kanu and Joseph Yobo. In any case, Musa is not the substantive captain. This was humiliation for Musa and it need not have happened. Period.
Colin Udoh is a Nigeria football correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ColinUdoh.