Nigeria vs Sierra Leone: Five things we learnt from Peseiro curtain-raiser

The Super Eagles of Nigeria got the José Peseiro era to a winning start. Here are five points we noticed.

Portueguese manager, Jose Peseiro of Nigeria, takes note during training

The Super Eagles of Nigeria on Thursday kicked off the competitive era of the José Peseiro administration with a laboured 2-1 victory over the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone

Lining up in an antiquated 4-4-2 formation, Nigeria's attack was spear-headed by the strike duo of Umar Sadiq and Victor Osimhen, while being flanked out wide by Moses Simon and Samuel Chukwueze. 

A midfield of Joe Aribo and Alex Iwobi were tasked with protecting a central defence partnership of William Troost-Ekong and Semi Ajayi, while Calvin Bassey and Ola Aina served as wing-backs on either side. 

The match, hosted at the MKO Abiola stadium in Abuja, was without the drums, trumpets and vociferous support often associated with Nigerian fans as the Super Eagles were serving a stadium ban for crowd disturbances after the World Cup-ousting loss to Ghana in March. 

It was the visitors who drew first blood just after the 10-minute mark from a diving header from Jonathan Morsay, but Nigeria were level five minutes later in the 16th minute from Alex Iwobi's well-placed finish. The midfielder, who is enjoying a renaissance since Lampard took over at clubside Everton, thereby scored the first competitive goal in the Jose Peseiro era. 

The comeback was completed four minutes before the break when Moses Simon, who also assisted Nigeria's first, cushioned an Ola Aina cross into the path of Victor Osimhen who bundled home. 

Nigeria did get several gilt-edged chances to kill off the game, but the match ended 2-1, a vital albeit unconvincing three points. 

Following Nigeria's return to winning ways, ZonalSports highlights 5 salient takeaways from Jose Peseiro's first competitive match. 

José Peseiro: a very outspoken coach

In the half-decade that Rohr managed the Super Eagles, Nigerians had become familiar with the calm, composed German pacing the touchline, who never spoke except when necessary. 

But going by this initial showing, the reverse seems to be the case with Peseiro who showed a strong inclination to always make his feelings known throughout the course of the game. 

In a match devoid of the drowning din of supporters, every word belted from the larynx of the Portuguese manager reverberated throughout the Abuja edifice. 

Peseiro was keen to lead the team's performance from the bench as he namechecked every single player either for a word of praise or criticism. 

Image credits: @poojamedia

In the 32nd minute, Iwobi felt the sting of Jose's tongue after losing possession in the middle of the park, with the names of Ekong, Sadiq, Osimhen and in the second half, Etebo, also ringing out as the game wore on. 

Although this doesn't necessarily indicate a guaranteed improvement in results, as exemplified by the very successful Carlo Ancelotti and his calm, pensive demeanour, a vocal manager might be the antidote to a Nigerian squad that were accused of attitude problems in the aftermath of the fallout with Gernot Rohr. 

It could also be a poisoned chalice in a football era characterised by players with weak personalities

Pitches determine performances

Although Nigeria's showing on Thursday was void of inspiration, a mitigating factor can be attributed to the dire state of the Moshood Abiola National Stadium, the venue of the AFCON qualifier contest. 

The pitch, an eyesore for even the highest definition of cameras, bubbled with each pass and spat sand with each boot step. 

For players who are, on weekly occasions, trained on state of the art turfs, it would have definitely been difficult for these professionals to exuberantly express themselves. 

There was also the risk of injuries, which would have impeded the flow of the game, since many of these players still hope to fashion summer transfers this window. 

This was also the bane of the Gernot Rohr-led Super Eagles, as the qualities of the team could not be conclusively determined due to the state of the pitch. 

It is very interesting that while the Super Eagles have had to shuttle home grounds between Abuja, Edo and Lagos, a world-renowned stadium in Akwa-Ibom hosted the just concluded 2022 edition of the CAF Confederation Cup final.

Iwobi: Nigeria's best

Image credits: @poojamedia

Despite holding the reputation as Nigeria's most famous active player, Alex Iwobi would also be a top contender for 'most despised player' of all time. Maligned both home and abroad, Iwobi has this season lifted himself from the daily throes of condemnation to commendation. 

He very much displayed this new lease of life in the America-held friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador, but it was his performance against Sierra Leone that would have left the most lasting impression. 

Asides his well-taken goal, Iwobi made 7 recoveries, the third-most and 3 interceptions, more than any other teammate. 

He also wasn't afraid to request for the ball, with only Semi Ajayi making more touches, as every bit of good play from the Super Eagles went through him. 

Chukwueze inconsistent

Image credits: @NGSuperEagles

Samuel Chukwueze, who ended the first half with two chances created and a 100 percent dribble accuracy, exhibited the erratic play that has come to characterise his time in Europe when he missed a golden opportunity to put Nigeria two goals ahead of the constantly threatening Sierra Leone early in the second half.

Iwobi found Osimhen in the box after the Sierra Leone defence carelessly conceded possession to Nigeria. The Napoli man in turn laid the ball on a plate for his childhood pal who shockingly failed to hit the target with the goal at his mercy. 

In the 36 minutes he played in the second half, the Villareal winger created no chances, and completed just one dribble, before being replaced by Ademola Lookman. 

Although rated by our team as one of Nigeria's best players in 2022, it is no exaggeration that Chukwueze's days his days as a definite starter are limited.

Erroneous Troost-Ekong

Given the captaincy in the absence of Ahmed Musa, William Troost-Ekong has struggled to demonstrate leadership qualities through his performances. 

Persistently prone to errors, Troost-Ekong failed to close down Musa Noah Kamara's cross which was subsequently turned home for Sierra Leone's opener. 

The recently relegated Watford defender was culpable on several occasions as the Leone stars found constant success on the right hand side of Nigeria's defence where he was stationed. 

Fortunately for the Dutch-born centre-back, Sierra Leone's foray into Nigeria's final third was few and sparse at best.