Following the criticism after the loss to Croatia, Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr sought to shake things up for the second game against Iceland. Nigeria couldn’t afford a loss else the team would be effectively out of the World Cup.
Gernot Rohr rolled in the 3-5-2, bringing in Kenneth Omeruo into the side as the third defender, shifting Victor Moses into the right wing back role he plays for Chelsea and flipping the midfield triangle of John Obi Mikel, Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi.
Mikel started this time at the base of the midfield with Etebo and Ndidi ahead. Rohr had learned; he placed the players where they could be most effective. However, the most surprising tweak was Rohr replacing Alex Iwobi with Ahmed Musa in attack. Though Iwobi was off the boil against Croatia but the Arsenal midfielder had suffered due to a positional malposition.
In the first half, Nigeria lacked a cutting edge. There was more control, more intent but the Super Eagles still were not as invented as incisive as needed. Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho didn’t have as much as a strike on goal. In fact, the entire Nigerian team were without a shot at goal all through the first half. It looked like a scary repeat of the tepid Croatian game only with a bit more pace and industry.
The eventual hero of the game, Musa, was without an important action according to Twelve and it might have seemed logical to take off the Leicester City forward at half time for the more creative Iwobi. Iwobi had combined excellently with Iheanacho in a friendly against Argentina as an attacking pair.
However, Rohr persisted with Musa, only substituting on Tyronne Ebuehi for Brian Idowu at left wing back at half time. Rohr’s faith paid off when Musa brought down Moses’ cross to the near post, then hit a delightful half-volley to put Nigeria ahead. It was a typical Super Eagles goal: a fast break from the edge of the box, with Moses moving the ball at pace before providing the assist.
After the goal, the Icelandic team became less compact and easily susceptible to counter-attacking breaks. The Super Eagles were more emboldened and there was the swagger and movement that was lacking in the first game and the first half.
The excellent Ndidi cracked a shot from distance that drew a rasping save from Hannes Halldorsson. Ndidi and Etebo were crucial to how the Super Eagles defended and attacked. Ndidi won eight aerial duels and four tackles and had the most touches of the ball.
The Leicester City midfielder was second to Musa on the leaderboard with 1,971 points while Etebo was at his best moving the ball forward, drifting into the left channel to assist Musa. His passing was also crisp with 93% success according to Whoscored. He was positive with his passing, feeding Iheanacho and Musa to feet behind Aaron Gunnarsson and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Etebo’s off-the-ball movement drifting into the left channel stretched the Icelandic defence and made Musa’s work a lot easier by giving someone for him to combine with. It was one of those sequences of play that saw Musa hit the crossbar with a superb curling strike from outside the box.
Seconds later, Musa wouldn’t be stopped. He raced onto the clearance from the effective Omeruo, beat Kari Arnasson for pace on the outside, rounded Halldorson before he placed the ball past Sverrir Ingasson and the recovering Arnasson on the goal line.
There was later a VAR moment that prompted a review of Ebuehi’s foul on Alfred Finnbogasson. The referee gave the penalty afterwards but Sigurdsson blasted the ball over the cross bar.
The Super Eagles’ win over Iceland puts their qualification in their hands. A win in their final game against Argentina seals their qualification, a draw might get them through if Iceland do not defeat Croatia by three goals, and a loss would signal the end of the road for Rohr’s young side.