Odion Ighalo grabbed a brace and assisted Alex Iwobi’s winner that sent Nigeria to the quarterfinals.
These are five things we learnt from the game.
1. Omeruo/Ekong partnership found out
On paper, a central defensive partnership of Kenneth Omeruo and Leon Balogun looks like the best option for the Super Eagles. In truth, Omeruo and Balogun are the best individual defenders on the Super Eagles roster, but against Cameroon, their pairing was found out, again.
There were signs of the weakness in this pairing in Nigeria’s first game but the Burundians were not quick enough to take advantage of that.
Against Cameroon, the Super Eagles didn’t have that luxury and paid by conceding two goals in the first half.
The haphazard positioning of both defenders, done like they don’t even talk to each other on the pitch was exploited by the Cameroonians.
Stephane Bahoken drifted from left to right, losing both defenders to jab in a cross for Cameroon’s first second.
A few minutes later, the Super Eagles defence was breached again. Omeruo went for a header and missed, Clinton Njie got to the ball and with his pace and strength, got inside the box and finished past Daniel Akpeyi. As Omeruo went for the head, Troost-Ekong was positioned just behind his central defence partner and could not recover in time to stop Njie.
2. Ighalo finally gets tournament delight with the Super Eagles
Odion Ighalo has been one of the most consistent Nigerian strikers in the last five years and while he has had a few good moments in national colours, the 30-year-old has not found any delight in tournaments.
He was public enemy number one after the 2018 FIFA World Cup where he failed to score a single goal but he has finally made his mark in a tournament.
After coming on as a substitute to score Nigeria’s winning goal against Burundi in the first game of AFCON 2019, Ighalo netted a brace and delivered a Man of the Match performance against Cameroon.
AFCON 2019 could be his opportunity to write his name in the history books amongst the legends.
3. Ndidi/Etebo pivot not working
It started from Gernot Rohr’s first game in charge with the Super Eagles and although it was gradual, Rohr’s pragmatic tactics, have turned the Super Eagles in a rigid, regimented unit often difficult to beat especially in Africa where teams have failed to truly exploit the team’s weakness.
Madagascar did with their hard-pressing but Cameroon on Saturday were more deliberate about it, taking advantage with the cracks in the Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo midfield pivot.
Ndidi and Etebo are meant to play and defend in front of the back four, a setup that had a major flaw. With no clear communication, both Ndidi and Etebo sometimes press upwards simultaneously, leaving some spaces just in front of the back four.
It happened against Cameroon, allowing Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting to go in between the space to start the move that created their first goal.
Even Cameroon’s second goal would have been avoided if Ndidi or Etebo maintained their position in front of the back four. They didn’t, they had pressed up the pitch, leaving spaces behind for v to head down for Njie who went on to score. Omeruo had rushed to contest the ball with Bahoken and missed and it was the space he left that Njie went on to score from.
This situation would have been avoided if Ndidi or Etebo was there to defend the ball.
Credit to Rohr, he noticed it and changed things at halftime, going for a 4-1-4-1 setup instead of the 4-2-3-1 he used in the first half.
4. Iwobi needs help to thrive as a No 10
With Mikel Obi out, Alex Iwobi has been playing in the No 10 role and has failed to convince in several games.
The last time Iwobi impressed as a No 10 for the Super Eagles was Nigeria’s 4-0 win over Liyba during the qualifiers for AFCON 2019 and it was in a game that the team didn’t have much defending to do. In that game, Iwobi had Etebo close to him in midfield to support unlike against Cameroon when the latter’s primary duty was to defend alongside Ndidi as a midfield pivot, leaving the Arsenal man isolated.
It was when the setup changed in the second half that Iwobi had Etebo’s support which helped to raise his game.
He made a fine run inside the opposition’s area to collect a pass from Ighalo before firing past Andre Onana for Nigeria’s winner.
5. Super Eagles finally show character
Not since the 1-2 loss to Argentina at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia had the Super Eagles equalised after going a goal down. Before then, it was in a friendly game against Senegal in March 2017.
The Super Eagles are not used to going behind and coming back, but against Cameroon, they displayed character to come back from 2-1 to win the game.
If they are to go ahead and win Nigeria’s fourth AFCON title, they will need to show more of this character in Egypt.