International breaks are the lesser football cousins of the glamour of club football. Despite being the avenue for qualification to major tournaments like the World Cup, Euros and AFCON, international breaks seem to take the back bench compared to the weekly chase for points in league football.
In Africa, things are different. In Nigeria, the Federation is more concerned about the Super Eagles and the international break is the way, the truth and the fight.
Two games in four days offered the Super Eagles an opportunity to take ownership of their AFCON qualifying group and they did so by securing all 6 points from Libya. A 4-0 win in Uyo and a 3-2 win in Sfax meant the Super Eagles leapfrogged South Africa to the top of the table.
Five of the seven goals scored were from Odion Ighalo, a striker that almost went on international retirement after fans went berserk on him for his poor show in Russia. A hat-trick in Uyo and a brace in Sfax look to have attoned for his sins in the sight of the Nigerian fans.
According to Kwese ESPN, it took the intervention of Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr to convince Ighalo to continue playing for the Super Eagles.
Ighalo explained: “I want to thank Rohr because after the World Cup and all those things happened, he called me before the Seychelles game [in September] and I told him I was contemplating stopping because it is not easy.”
“But the coach had belief in me. He said ‘I know you are a good goalscorer and I know you can do it. Come and show them that you can score.’
Five goals and an assist is surely a way to show that he can score, after firing blanks from open play in 10 consecutive matches for the Super Eagles. He is now top scorer in the AFCON qualifiers with six goals – all coming in three consecutive games.
Aside Iwobi’s new role at the middle of the pack and Jamilu Collins debut, Odion Ighalo’s goals meant the positives around the international break was all about him from the Nigerian periscope.
Will the Super Eagles beat South Africa in Durban? They are all but through to the 2019 AFCON, thanks to the expanded format. The battle for top spot is not as heated as it was when the draws were made with only sixteen teams originally billed to qualify. With twenty four teams going, qualification paths have been eased off.
Well done Odion.