By ONOCHIE ANIBEZE in Kigali
Stephen Keshi learnt a big lesson here in Rwanda Wednesday. And as he walked out of the stadium in Kigali he said “we have to invest more on the local players.”
Nobody could agree less. The foreign-based players proved that names don’t play football. Keshi knew this before now but the lesson sank deeper and stronger in his perception of football.
In a Nations Cup qualifier that was his first competitive match those who saved the day for Nigeria were not the big names from Europe but the local players he used. Azubuike Egwueke was a rock in the defence, Godfrey Itama, the captain of Sun shine Stars who played as right back complemented solidly.
Ejike Uzoenyi of Enugu Rangers was the most outstanding player on the Nigerian side in the scoreless draw. Ejike played from the left side of the midfield and two times he came close to scoring. Rwanda’s keeper Ndori Jean Glaude injured his ankle when he stretched with his legs to save Ejike’s grounder. Gabriel Ruben from Kano Pillars came in for Dickson Etuhu and fired a thunderous shot that was goal-bound until it hit a defender who had to be attended to by the medical team.
That appeared all fans saw of the Nigerian team that paraded Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Osaze Odemwingie, Ahmed Musa in the attack, Dickson Etuhu and Joel Obi in the midfield. Taye Taiwo appeared to have played one of his last matches for Nigeria. Osaze struggled to find his feet but ended up struggling until he was substituted. It was a good decision. Another good decision from the bench was sending Dickson Etuhu out.
He was a Mikel Obi on the field. 90 per cent of his passes were backward even when there was no pressure on him. He simply refused to go forward. And his defensive play was not strong. Joel Obi struggled to mark and made some incursions but Eagles lacked creativity in the midfield especially when one of the strikers was not dropping deep to help in winning balls. It meant Etuhu and Obi were defensive and this left a weak link between them and the attackers. There was clearly no attacking midfielder.
Ahmed Musa also had a silent game. Victor Moses came in for him and showed quality. Joseph Yobo, Moses and Vincent Enyeama who saved two close chances were the only foreign-based players who held their heads high. Others failed to impress and going by the building process Stephen keshi and his crew have commenced, many of the foreign-based players may be left out in future assignments.
This should not surprise Nigerians. Ike Uche replaced Osaze and could not find his feet too. In the last ten minutes Rwandans mounted pressure and were unlucky not to have scored. They passed the ball better and fought harder but lacked finishing finesse. Most of their shots were up into the sky.