As they return to their clubs, what can Nigeria’s best performers in Ndola take back with them?
Following an exciting, exacting 2-1 win in Ndola over Zambia, morale in the Nigeria camp could not be higher. Next up is the visit of Africa’s top-ranked team Algeria, and a win against the manager-less Fennecs would set things up very nicely indeed.
However, it is a fact that international football seems an alternate reality at times, and is a world away from the weekly grind of club football.
For some, the international window is an inconvenience, a burden which cannot be set down, to be borne with utmost care. For others, it is an escape, a release and a time to reunite with kin.
The latter is partiuclarly true in African football, with most of its major sides drawing the bulk of their complement from European leagues, but can the present euphoria do for the Super Eagles stand-out players as they return to Europe at the weekend?
A whirlwind, fairytale year just keeps getting better for Iwobi.
Now firmly entrenched as a mainstay at both national and club level, and yet to even turn 20, there may have been a temptation to second-guess himself. Perhaps if something seems too good to be true, it really is?
His introduction at Arsenal has been a breath of fresh air and provided balance in all the right areas, and now that he has claimed the same position on the international stage, he can rest assured that he is more than Arsene Wenger’s pet project.
This is no flash in the pan. The era of Iwobi is here.
Mikel John Obi
The Super Eagles captain is another enjoying a particularly rousing year. Whereas, his role and perception at Premier League giants Chelsea is set in stone, the same could not be said of his standing with the national team until now.
He is enjoying something of a renaissance, first as captain of the Under-23 side to the Olympics, and now as a mature, rallying presence with the Super Eagles.
He is however yet to feature in the league for Chelsea this season, as Antonio Conte seeks answers to the malaise at Cobham.
At some point, as all managers at Stamford Bridge before him have discovered, the Italian will need to have a look at Mikel. When that happens, you can be sure that he will be ready to showcase his abilities; his performances with Nigeria have shown nothing of the rustiness that one might expect. Like a veteran, Mikel is perfectly attuned to deliver at the right moments.
The Olympiacos man has not always received the recognition his performances deserve with the national team. Never the most prolific, especially in green and white, Ideye showed on Sunday what his best qualities are. He hassled and harried, and showed intelligence in his pressing movements and use of his body shape to block off passing lanes.
Also, crucially, his assist for Iheanacho’s second showed he is ready and able to hang with the whirlwind of movement around him.
Playing in Greece can be frustrating when your major competitor for a Super Eagles place is from the bright lights of the Premier League, but Ideye can know now that Gernot Rohr will be watching and paying attention.
It should inject a new impetus and confidence into the former Ocean Boys forward.
Ikeme is no stranger to adversity and fighting his way to prominence. When Wolves snapped up Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez on loan last season, he played second fiddle for a while, and then reclaimed his place with a series of typically assured performances.
Similarly, with the Super Eagles, having waited so long for a debut, it has often seemed he is holding the spot in lieu of the return of the legendary Vincent Enyeama. However, his display in Zambia was truly remarkable, and it seems he may have finally banished the spectre of Nigeria’s most-capped international from his shoulder.