There was little to choose between two squads of Eagles from the African continent as Nigeria and Tunisia ended their friendly game in Austria in a 1-1 draw on Tuesday night, even as Coach Gernot Rohr handed first caps to two more players – Cyril Dessers and Chidera Ejuke. This meant Nigeria has handed caps to a total of six players in these two friendly games, after Zaidu Sanusi, Frank Onyeka, Kevin Akpoguma and Samson Tijani took theirs against Algeria on Friday.
Captain Ahmed Musa started a game for the first time in a long time – one of five changes that Rohr made to the team that started against the African champions in Klagenfurt on Friday. Kenneth Omeruo was back at the heart of the defence and Moses Simon took the place of Samuel Kalu, while Kevin Akpoguma took over at right back consigning Tyronne Ebuehi to the bench.
The changes, aligned with the striped white jersey as against the darkish green against Algeria, made the Eagles look brighter on the turn against a well –organised Tunisian side that had plenty of guile, skill and steel. Their steel earned them two yellow cards within the first 12 minutes, and after being appropriately inducted, the Super Eagles decided to add some steel to their own game.
England –based Kelechi Iheanacho took the marksman’s role from gangling Paul Onuachu. After two misdirected shots by Samuel Chukwueze and Zaidu Sanusi, the former U17 World Cup winner showed his team mates how to do by holding the ball well inside the box, against Dylane Bronn, and firing past goalkeeper Ben Mustapha Farouk to put Nigeria in the lead for the first time in the tour. This was in the 21st minute.
Captain Youssef Msakni, Wabil Khazri, Issama Haddadi and Mohamed Drajer posed all sorts of problems for the Nigerian defence with their pace, trickery and telepathy. Yet, the North Africans would have been two goals down on the half hour, but Iheanacho, granted the opportunity to score his 10th international goal, saw his tame shot from the penalty spot saved by Farouk after the goalkeeper had brought down Ahmed Musa.
As the clock closed in on the first period, Drajer saw his shot from a corner fly away, a sweet move by Simon and Iheanacho was decoded by an alert rearguard of the Carthage Eagles and Okoye saved from Khazri. But there was still time for a twsit, as the effervescent Hamza Rafia ghosted past Omeruo on the line and gifted Drajer to hammer into the net for Tunisia’s equalizer.
The second half was no less interesting. Iheanacho rose to meet the ball from a corner but headed narrowly over, and at the other end, Drajer side-netted. Musa, on his 93rd senior cap for Nigeria, looked good to put Nigeria ahead in the 67th minute but he lacked the pace to meet up with a good pass from Iheanacho.
Both teams showed grit and intention, with some eye-catching touches, good marking, adroit use of space and some individual brilliance.
On the dot of time, the Carthage Eagles came quite close to nicking it, but Okoye, winning only his third cap for Nigeria, was alert enough to tip over the bar a tricky lob by Naim Sliti.
Next up for the Super Eagles is a quickfire home-and-away AFCON qualifying fixture against the Leone Stars of Sierra Leone, between 9th and 17th November.