Nigeria 1-1 Senegal: Isaac Success proves he can definitely live up to his name, but not all the Super Eagles’ starlets did themselves justice.
On a frightfully cold Thursday evening, two African heavyweights came to blows. What was on a paper a bizarrely organised friendly — the match taking place in front of 2,013 people at Barnet’s home stadium, The Hive — turned out to be an entertaining match with plenty of Scouted-approved talent on show… even if I did spill coffee over my nice jumper.
After a Google Maps mishap and a complete misjudgement of the number of fans that would make the same last-minute decision as I did, I was unable to get in the ground ahead of kick-off and soak up the friendly atmosphere. But, after paying a respectable £10 for my place in the South terrace I was finally able to enjoy the game and divert my attention away from the bitterly cold weather.
My focus now was solely on Nigeria.
The Super Eagles are in the process of ushering in a new generation of talent — something that our very own Phil Costa has written about before — and much of it was on show with six U23 players named in the starting XI.
Premier League stars Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho were the big attractions, for Nigerian fans at least, and were pitted against a strong Senegalese side whose star performer on the night was Everton’s midfield dynamo, Idrissa Gueye.
The Lions of Teranga troubled Nigeria in the first half with high pressing and solid defending. The aforementioned Premier League duo were playing closely together but failed to create any chances of note, neither for each other or their teammates. A tame first half performance was punctuated by wasteful crossing in attack and unconvincing defending at the back.
The start of the second half saw Fenerbahce goal-machine and bicycle-kick extraordinaire, Moussa Sow, give Senegal the lead. Unfortunately, his effort was untypically ordinary, firing the ball home after Nigeria failed to clear Idrissa Gueye’s cross from the right.
The Super Eagles wrestled back control soon after, however, and managed to reassert themselves in the game. Despite Sadio Mané entering the fray to a rapturous applause from both sets of fans, 20-year-old Wilfred Ndidi was looking the most likely to lead a Super Eagles’ comeback, building on a solid first-half display with another combative and assertive midfield performance.
For all Ndidi's work, however, Nigeria were still struggling in attack, and it was Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi in particular that fell short of the high standards he has established for himself. The 20-year-old has come under increasing amounts of criticism of late and would have loved to put on a show; if not to dispel the doubts of others, then to at least expel any that might be developing in his own mind. The minutes and faith both Arsene Wenger and the Nigerian national team have pumped into him is a clear sign of his ability and, even more so, his potential. Perhaps for Alex Iwobi a few games out of the spotlight is the best way to arrest is ‘poor’ run of form.
But whilst one Premier League star may have disappointed the expectant travelling supporters, the man who replaced him did not. Watford’s Isaac Success, sporting the number 8 on the evening, trotted onto the pitch with the nonchalant swagger that has characterised his brief playing career.
On the night, however, it was his powerful physique that was on show.
Rather than hiding behind his usual baggy shorts and an oversized top, Success was practically bursting out of his Nigerian kit – his tree-trunk thighs screaming to be set free from his tight shorts á la The Incredible Hulk. He even played like Bruce Banner’s angry alter ago: he was, in every sense, a Green Machine.
Swatting away Senegalese defenders like flies, the Watford winger at first seemed to join Kelechi Iheanacho upfront before moving out towards the right and wreaking havoc. Faced with Kalidou Koulibaly more often than not, Success was able to breeze past the opposing left full-back and torment the giant Napoli defender with his mesmerising step-overs and sheer physicality.
Success' introduction, his pace and direct approach, lifted Nigeria and in the end, it was in fact the Man City starlet who made the decisive breakthrough.
Racing onto a hopeful through ball from deep in midfield, Kelechi Iheanacho's electric pace ensured it was his toe rather than the goalkeeper’s glove that made first contact with the ball, resulting in a fairly routine penalty to be given. With a stutter, he then cooly dispatched the penalty, drawing his side level in the process. Just like that, despite a quiet game overall, in a two-minute spell Kelechi Iheanacho displayed all the attributes that make him such a highly-rated young striker and why we love him to bits at Scouted: pace, composure, and clinical finishing.
It may have been Iheanacho's name that rang around the stadium, but it was no doubt Isaac Success that shone the brightest for Nigeria on Thursday evening. His brutish strength proved too much to handle and by creating chances and applying pressure, the Super Eagles were eventually able to punish an increasingly nervous-looking Senegal side.
Watford fans will now be hoping that the former Granada man can translate his excellent display into concrete playing time at Vicarage Road. A perceived lack of match fitness has plagued his time in England so far, and perhaps even for good reason. Such a muscular, explosive player will always exert much more stress on his body and recovering from an injury, of which he has already suffered a few, takes frustratingly longer than usual. Ten-minute bursts will hopefully soon become thirty-minute cameos and in time Success may even be unleashed from the start.
His physicality, style of play and demeanour all carry a sense of volatility and inconsistency but when they combine and marry together in harmony, like they did on Thursday night, Isaac Success becomes an entirely different animal: an unstoppable freight train who can just as easily bamboozle his opponent with a piece of deft trickery as he can trample all over them without breaking stride.
All in all, it was a night of conflicting performances from the young Nigerians, especially from their strong Premier League contingent. But where some may have disappointed, others delighted and it was the performance of brick-s**t house, Isaac Success, that helped the Super Eagles extend their unbeaten run to six games and fans at The Hive buzzing...
(I had to do it.)
By Jake Entwistle.