<
>

Nigeria at the CHAN: Complete tournament review

Ahmed Bader Hasan of Libya and Chukwudiebube Emeka Ogbugh of Nigeria Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

As the curtain falls on the Super Eagles' African Nations Championship campaign, KweséESPN's Colin Udoh delivers his tournament review.

Few expected Nigeria's CHAN Eagles to get anywhere near the final of the 2018 tournament. By the time they got there, a win was the hope, but the general expectation was for a loss.

However, nothing near as humiliating as the 4-0 hiding they came away with was anticipated by Nigeria fans who had been encouraged by the national side's campaign to date.

Worse than the scoreline however, was the manner of the capitulation. Passes gone awry, shambolic defending and a needless, petulant red card.

As Salisu Yusuf's side return home, KweséESPN looks back over their entire campaign and asseses the team's performance in Morocco.

OVERALL GRADE: B

Forget all the pre-tournament bluster. From the get go, this team was not set up to be CHAN champions. They had neither the quality, nor the preparation needed.

While Yusuf did pick a number of top players from the league, his side were almost immediately compromised by the departure of key players from the domestic top flight, with Alhassan Ibrahim being one example.

He further sold himself down the river by picking an obviously injured Peter Eneji, who would not be fit or available until the final, in his 23-man squad. It was effectively wasting one valuable spot in the Eagles' roster.

The selection of 37-year-old Rabiu Ali from a league with much younger, talented midfielders, was just as head-scratching.

However, despite the deficiencies, Yusuf's squad still got further than any other Nigerian team at this competition, advancing via a combination of grit, determination and an unyielding attitude to defeat...at least until the final.

For all the (undeserved) condemnation they will get, they do score high marks overall for working their way to a silver medal.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: DELE AJIBOYE

This was a toss-up between Ajiboye and Okechukwu Gabriel. And to be fair, Ajiboye is more reborn than breakout.

The reason this goes to the goalkeeper is simply because it is a World Cup year, and a breakout performance should lead to a place on the World Cup squad. After almost two games deputizing for the injured Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Ajiboye absolutely ticks that box.

A few months ago, after the goalkeeper trained with the full squad for the first time as they prepared for the double header against Cameroon, whispers among some players and officials was that Ezenwa would need to watch his back with performance after performance.

It only took Ajiboye one game to prove them right, and somewhat explains why Gernot Rohr refused to tell KweséESPN's Ed Dove that Ezenwa was number one despite a Man of the Match performance against Angola.

STANDOUT PLAYER: STEPHEN EZE

Nigeria conceded just two goals on their way to the final, one of which was an own goal by a replacement centre-back. While Ezenwa and Ajiboye had much to do with it at various times, Stephen Eze was equally instrumental.

The Kano Pillars defender proved to be not just an excellent reader of the play, but was also an excellent tackler, and usually on hand to bring the ball out of defence while dominating aerial contests. It is no surprise he is reported in the local press to be leaving the NPFL for Europe

DISAPPOINTMENT: IFEANYI IFEANYI

Having spent time with the Super Eagles A squad, and with the quality of ability he has previously shown, great things were expected of the Akwa United midfielder.

However, he was consistently subbed out by Yusuf, and left out of the starting lineup in one game.

On the basis of his performance in the final, his stock will have fallen significantly with any potential suitors. I doubt scouts will be scrambling to his door now.

MISUNDERSTOOD VILLAIN: ANTHONY OKPOTU

Two goals in the six games, including five starts, meant last season's top scorer endured the brunt of the fans' displeasure - and that is putting in mildly - throughout Nigeria's run.

He did miss multiple chances to have padded his tally, and is rightly criticised for those, but Okpotu offered the kind of presence upfront that almost no other player could.

It's perhaps instructive that the one game he did not start, was the one where the Super Eagles suffered a rout...mostly because the opposition had nobody of his particular skillset to make them concerned about keeping an eye on the backdoor.