Vincent Enyeama and Kenneth Omeruo are central to the Super Eagles’ chances of advancing to the Quarter-finals
The final whistle had just been blown to signal the end of the final warm-up match for Nigeria before they fly to Brazil at Sun Life Stadium, Miami. They lost to the United States whose two goals were scored by Jozy Altidore, a striker who managed just two goals in all competitions during the recent season.
Kenneth Omeruo wasn’t fit for that game and team captain Joseph Yobo deputised, pairing Godfrey Oboabona at the heart of the defence. After watching replays of the horrible defending that led to both goals, fans were convinced that the defensive line would be the Achilles heel of the Super Eagles in Brazil, throw in the injury to Elderson Echiejile on the eve of the tournament, and it seemed like Nigeria would be set for a tough time in Group F.
Three games and 270 minutes later, the Super Eagles have completely proved the doubters wrong, they managed to scale through the first two games without conceding (spare a thought for Edin Dzeko’s disallowed goal) and could do little to stop the genius of Lionel Messi in their final group game.
Godfrey Oboabona limped off early in the first match against Iran and in came Joseph Yobo to partner the returning Kenneth Omeruo, Juwon Oshaniwa had taken the place of Elderson while Efe Ambrose kept his spot at right-back.
With the reliable Vincent Enyeama in goal, the Super Eagles successfully shut out the Iranians despite producing what was arguably the most boring game of the tournament.
After spending the last season on loan at Middlesbrough, Chelsea-owned Kenneth Omeruo has truly come of age. He did an almost perfect job on Edin Dzeko in the second game and has done well to cover the cracks shown by Yobo. One wonders if Marcos Rojo would have scored that third goal for Argentina if Omeruo had his reliable partner Oboabona alongside him.
Yobo does, however, deserve some commendation. His experience has been quite useful in organising a back line that has hardly played together. Oshaniwa’s runs down the left flank, and his improving defensive showings, are fast making Elderson Echiejile a forgotten man. It’s hard to believe Efe Ambrose isn’t a natural right-back considering his immense contribution to the Super Eagles campaign so far, solid in defence and marauding in attack.
After keeping 21 clean sheets in the French Ligue 1 for Lille, Vincent Enyeama came into the World Cup with a growing reputation, he made a point blank save in the first game to deny the Iranians a match winning goal and continued to impress in the second match with series of saves.
Despite conceding thrice against Argentina, few would argue that he helped in keeping the score line modest with a number of brilliant stops.
Going into the match against the country where he makes his living, Enyeama would be hoping to shut out a free flowing French attack that’s scored eight goals so far. Enyeama is currently the highest-ranked African in the official World Cup Castrol rankings, he ended the season as the best African player in France and was very close to breaking the all-time goalkeeping record in Ligue 1.
Oboabona is likely to return against the French and will hope to maintain the solidity and understanding that’s made his partnership with Omeruo one of the best the Eagles have had, certainly since the days of Uche Okechukwu (the Gentle Giant) and Stephen Keshi (the Big Boss).
The final group game against Ecuador showed some vulnerability in the French set-up (although coach Didier Deschamps did make six changes for that game) and after that impressive performance against Argentina, one can expect this Super Eagles backline to give Karim Benzema and Co. a testing time.
The Super Eagles will enjoy the tag of being underdogs going into this one, which could help them play under less pressure, and the longer it stays goalless, the more confidence Nigeria might take from the contest.
While Nigeria’s counter-attacking offensive line will ultimately need to star, the Super Eagles’ defence will be key in this game.
If the free-scoring Bleus are to reach their first final since 2006, they’ll have to find a way past a defence that’s steadily growing in confidence and understanding,
Underpinning this, of course, is Enyeama, a man whos wages are being paid by a French club. The goalkeeper will be highly motivated by the prospect of reminding those fans that enjoy his performances weekly in Ligue 1, just what he is capable of in the guise of the national side.
Patrice Evra has been reported as admitting that France are aware of the “fantastic” Nigeria goalkeeper…now is Enyeama’s time to prove that Les Bleus are right to be wary.