Thursday, 23 March 2017

Nigeria 1-1 Senegal

Nigeria 1-1 Senegal
International Friendly
Thursday 23rd March 2017
20:00pm GMT
The Hive Stadium
Attendance: 2,013

Hello and welcome to The Football Journey!

The Nigerian football team has been known to play numerous international fixtures in London over the years, and when it was announced that they will be stepping onto the pitch at The Hive Stadium in Barnet during this international break, I knew right away that I needed to get myself over there!

One of my main dilemmas was whether to go to this game, or the Burkina Faso one on Monday night - or both. I was drawn towards the latter at first simply because they managed to achieve 3rd place in the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, but when the squads of both nations were announced last week Thursday, Senegal was easily the outright winner. Aristide Bancé was the only player I'd ever heard of in the Burkina Faso squad, and although sometimes it's the unknown players which provide better spectacles, I felt like sticking with Aliou Cis's men.
An almost pitch-side view at The Hive Stadium
And so here I was!

The run-in
The last time these two nations met was back in 2006 when they battled out for 3rd place in the Africa Cup of Nations. Garba Lawal grabbed the only goal that day, scoring in the 79th minute to seal the bronze medal spot for the Super Eagles.

At the moment, the 'hosts' are on some pretty decent form, having only been beaten twice in their last 13 outings (prior to this one) in all competitions, with the last 5 of those being victories. 

After failing to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon at the turn of the year, the Super Eagles are swiftly looking to put that disappointment behind them and currently sit top of their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying group with two wins from two games. However, they still have four more games ahead of them before they can set their sights on Russia in a years time. 
Nigerian players being put through their paces in the warm-up
Unlike Nigeria, Senegal managed to reach the quarter-finals of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, and although they probably felt as if they could've gone further, I don't think they should have felt disappointed whatsoever. I say this because they managed to take the eventual champions, Cameroon, all the way to a nail-biting penalty shoot-out, and on another day, maybe, just maybe, Sadio Mané would've scored his penalty and things would've worked out in their favour. Yes, it was definitely heart-breaking, but there was nothing to be ashamed of. 

The 'Lions of Teranga' haven't quite got going in their World Cup qualifying group just yet, currently sitting in third place with three points from two games. Just like their counterparts tonight, they have also only lost twice in their last 13 games, and have managed to keep a total of 8 clean sheets in the process. Not a bad record, eh?

The build-up
From a marketing point of view, I was quite concerned about the surprisingly low number of pre-ticket sales for this game since during the week, Barnet officials announced that they were only expecting a total attendance between 1,400 and 1,900. With the most recent census showing that there are over 100,000 Nigerian residents living in London alone, I don't see how a 5,000 or so seater stadium couldn't even get close to selling out, particularly for a West African derby. Appalling really. 

As for team news, Chelsea's Victor Moses pulled out from the Nigeria squad at the last minute due to injury. However, there were still many players in the Super Eagles' that I was looking forward to seeing, such as Premier League attacking trio Kelechi Iheanacho, Ahmed Musa, and Alex Iwobi. I've already seen Victor Moses at Selhurst Park earlier this season when Crystal Palace played Chelsea, so I wasn't too bothered by his absence. 

The main man missing for Senegal was Newcastle United's Momo Diamé. The French-born defensive midfielder recently announced his retirement from international football, after making 31 appearances in 7 years with the Senegalese crest on his chest. 

In all honesty, I was more excited to see what the Senegalese internationals had to offer as opposed to Nigerian ones. The likes of Liverpool's Sadio Mané, West Ham United's Cheikhou Kouyaté and Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly made the trip down to the Hive for this international encounter, with the three of them all being top players which could cause all sorts of problems for Nigeria at both ends of the pitch. 
Players pay their respects to the victims of the tragic attack in Westminster on Wednesday
As international friendlies give coaches the chance to try new systems and see uncapped players in action for the first time, I knew it wasn't exactly going to be an intense game. Having said that, I was at least hoping for a few goals to get my money's worth, and I did get two in the end, so it wasn't too bad!

The match
Senegal began as the more dangerous of the two sides. In the opening ten minutes, Adama M'Bengue's cross found Moussa Sow free in the penalty box, but he could only direct his header onto the post. It wouldn't have counted anyway as the linesman quickly had his flag up for offside, but it showed that Senegal weren't going to take this game lightly.

Not much happened after that until the 20th minute or so, when a clash between Senegal's Moussa Sow and Nigeria's Ogenyi Onazi saw the Super Eagles midfielder needing to be stretchered off after what seemed to be a back injury, with John Ogu being introduced as his replacement. 

The Lions of Teranga then came knocking on the door again. Adama M'Bengue's curling left-footed free-kick effort had Nigeria's keeper Daniel Akpeyi scrambling to keep the ball out, and in the end he just about managed to tip it over the crossbar to keep the game goalless. 
Salif Sané winning a header for Senegal in the middle of the park
Nigeria finally found themselves in the final third after about half an hour of play, but Ahmed Musa's cross from the right-hand side went sky-high across the box missing everyone, eventually flying into the stands and out for a throw-in, much to the distress of the Nigeria faithful.

The Super Eagles did begin to build some momentum shortly afterwards though. Leicester City's Wilfred Ndidi's through ball was somewhat accidentally flicked on by Arsenal's Alex Iwobi, finding Manchester City's Kelechi Iheanacho inside the box, but his left-footed strike across goal went past both Pape Seydou N'Diaye in the Senegal goal, as well as the far post.

The best chance of the game up until this point fell to the Manchester City youngster again just before the break. After a scramble inside the Senegalese box, Alex Iwobi's pass finally managed to find Kelechi Iheanacho just inside the six-yard box, but he couldn't seem to find his balance and sent his attempt crashing into the advertising boards. 

Even though Nigeria finished the first half stronger, the second started with Senegal on top yet again.

Seven minutes in, Cheikhou Kouyaté found himself with plenty of space in the middle of the park after winning the ball back for his side, and his through pass sent Moussa Sow bearing down at goal. I don't know what he was trying, but his poor attempt to lob the keeper from the edge of the box hilariously flew miles over the goal. 

Senegal did find themselves in front just two minutes later though. Nigeria's stopper Daniel Akpeyi failed to claim an Idrissa Gana Gueye cross from the right-hand side, and the ball found its way through to Moussa Sow at the back stick. He reacted expertly, controlling the ball with his thigh before sending his right-footed volley into the bottom left corner of the goal, making up for his earlier miss and putting his side in front in the process.

The 'visitors' onslaught then continued shortly after and they almost doubled their lead, with Daniel Akpeyi being forced into an acrobatic save following Cheikh N'Doye's effort from outside the box, and Idrissa Gana Gueye's left-footed shot-cross attempt going narrowly over the top right corner of the goal. 

Nigeria almost equalised when Kelechi Iheanacho provided a well-weighted lay-off for Wilfred Ndidi on the edge of the box, but his powerful curling strike was saved well by Pape Seydou N'Diaye who got down well at the far post. 

With a bunch of substitutes being made and a load of players going into the referee's book, a whole twenty minutes passed before there was any goalmouth action. But when there finally was some, it was pivotal to the outcome of the game. 

With ten minutes to spare, Nigerian substitute Olarenwaju Kayode played a defence-splitting through ball into the feet of Kelechi Iheanacho, who found himself running full speed down at goal. As he attempted to go around Pape Seydou N'Diaye, he was fouled by the 6'1" keeper, giving the referee no choice but to point to the penalty spot and brandish a yellow card. Kelechi Iheanacho took matters into his own hands and calmly tucked the resulting spot-kick away into the bottom right corner of the net to equalise for the Super Eagles. 
Nigeria celebrating their equaliser
It was that man Kelechi Iheanacho getting involved yet again, and he almost found the winner for Nigeria in stoppage time, but his effort on the spin went whiskers wide of the post, keeping the score at 1-1.
The teams
Nigeria: Akpeyi; Omeruo, Troost-Ekong, Balogun, Echiéjilé; Onazi (c) (Ogu 25'), Ndidi; Musa (Kayode 76'), Iwobi (Oghenekaro 61'), Simon (Success 61'), Iheanacho

Bookings: Echiéjilé, Balogun, Success
Unused subs: Ezemwa, Abdullahi, Awaziem, Ebuehi

Manager: Gernot Rohr

Senegal: P. N'Diaye; Wagué (Mané 65'), Kouyaté (c), Koulibaly, A. M'Bengue (C. M'Bengue 75'); Sané; Diouf, N'Doye, Gueye, Nguette; Sow (Diedhiou 70')

Bookings: P. N'Diaye, C. M'Bengue
Unused subs: Diallo, A. N'Diaye, Z. Touré, Ciss, Gassama, Saivet

Manager: Aliou Cissé

The run-down
Overall, the game turned out pretty much how I expected it to. It was rather slow-paced for the most part with many players not hitting top gear, and with the large amount of substitutions being made and set-pieces being given away by both teams over the 90 minutes, it was very stop-start at times. 

Having said that, it was still a pretty enjoyable game even though it didn't have much meaning for either team, and it's not really often you get to see two African nations locking horns at a stadium in London. A very unique international friendly indeed. 

This was my third visit to The Hive Stadium, and each time I've been, I've grown to love the structure of the ground more and more every time. As it's a modern stadium, it's very clean, tidy and easy on the eye, and with where I was sitting in the West Stand, I couldn't argue with the view I had. Great little ground. 

As for players I've never heard of before, I was very impressed with Senegal's Opa Nguette, and I thought he looked surprisingly decent on the ball. His flair caused the Nigeria back line problems all night long, and as he's currently at FC Metz in Ligue 1, I'm sure he'll move to a bigger team soon if he puts in performances like that every week.

I wasn't expecting there to be a good atmosphere anyway, and even though there were no chants on show by either set of fans, it was comical how some supporters (especially Nigerian ones) were getting excited over every little thing that was happening in the game. For example, Kelechi Iheanacho was dribbling on the left hand side at the start of the game, and they got excited when he did a fake shot. The funniest part was, he didn't even beat his man. I definitely need to see a match in Africa one day!

To be fair to the stewards, I don't think they were expecting a pitch invasion at full time, and when it happened, there was nothing that they could do to stop it. Inititally I didn't want to be a part of it, but I eventually gave in. It was definitely well worth it though, as I ended up getting Kalidou Koulibaly's and Leon Balogun's autographs whilst on the pitch.
The unexpected pitch invasion
I also waited after the game by both team's coaches to get some more autographs, and ended up getting them from players such as Sadio Mané, Cheikhou Kouyaté, Wilfred Ndidi, Ahmed Musa and Alfred N'Diaye to add to my collection. They are just scribbles on a page after all, but I feel a sense of pride every time I get a footballer to put pen to paper in my little collector's book. 
Sadio Mané's autograph
Match rating: 5.2/10
Atmosphere rating: 6.3/10
Stadium rating: 6.8/10
Overall rating: 6.1/10

The next game I'll be going to is on Saturday, and I'm hoping it'll be a special one!

Follow me on Twitter for updates @_kubap5 and @PolishBlanco.

Thank you for reading!


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