SUPER EAGLES Sao Tome walloping signposts new attacking emphasis under Jose Peseiro

Solace Chukwu 19:57 - 13.06.2022

It may only have been Sao Tome, but the Super Eagles were relentless and ruthless in a way we have not seen for quite a while.

On the face of it, a win over an opponent some 150 places lower in the FIFA world rankings really should not say much. Coming in, there were really only two contexts within which a meeting with Sao Tome and Principe would even register, especially considering its 2 pm (WAT) kick-off. The first was if the unthinkable – an upset for the ages – played out; the second was if something outrageous and/or historic went down.

As it happens, the latter came to pass.

In thrashing their putative hosts 10-0 in Agadir, Nigeria not only eclipsed a 63-year-old record in international football, but provided fodder for sports trivia questions for years to come.

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However, the freak scoreline was significant in another sense: it represented the first clean break from the era that preceded the appointment of Jose Peseiro, and afforded the clearest glimpse yet of what the Portuguese manager has in store for the Super Eagles.

Yes, this is only Sao Tome and Principe, ranked 183rd in the world. Only four days ago, Guinea-Bissau, hardly the creme of African football themselves, put five goals past them. They have lost 15 of their last 20 matches; the last time they beat a team that wasn't Mauritius was in March 2016. They were always going to get beaten.

However, and this is important, it was not that long ago that a match of this nature would have served up an insipid, perfunctory victory and nothing more.

In September 2018 and March 2019, Nigeria faced Seychelles, on the road and at home respectively, in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying. At the time, Seychelles were ranked 186th and 189th by FIFA (they dropped a further three places between the two legs). Over the two matches, despite securing six points as expected, Nigeria did not score 10 goals combined. In fact, the home leg, which ended in a 3-1 win, saw Nigeria go into the half-time break level, and only a late cameo by Moses Simon truly made the result safe in the final minute.

If this feels like nitpicking, Lesotho (not quite as lowly-ranked, but similarly modest opposition) put up a good fight on their home patch against the previous iteration of the Super Eagles, and the likes of Liberia and the Central African Republic also enjoyed spots of success.

This was different, not so much because of the scoreline, but because it felt different. It has been a while since Nigeria so utterly put their boots on opposing necks. There has been no shortage of opportunity either. Instead, it simply came to feel, over the last six years, like the bare minimum was all we could expect, as former boss Gernot Rohr wielded the relative youth of his charges like an amulet against all criticism. 

Peseiro, whatever his ultimate destiny in the role, seems determined to offer something more. “My philosophy as a coach is to play attacking football,” he said following last month's defeat to Mexico, and true to his word he was constantly waving his players on in Morocco, demanding his forwards stretch the pitch, calling for pressure on the ball. Even with his team romping to victory.

This cuts right to the heart of why Rohr always felt like a poor fit. The German's inability to gauge the pulse of his working environment meant he was so often at variance with his own tools. Peseiro, however, has followed Marcus Aurelius' direction by answering the most basic of questions: this Super Eagles side, what is it in itself? What is its substance and material?

It is a pool of players brimming with attacking talent, and so Peseiro has decided to lean into that and work backwards from there. That has (so far) meant two strikers, constant pressure on the ball and a willingness to pass quickly through the lines.

It is far from perfect, and certain departments of the team are in need of an injection of quality. The return of Wilfred Ndidi will be a boon, as will some form of resolution at centre-back and a decision on the ideal partner for the rampaging Victor Osimhen. There will also be much tougher tests to weather soon enough, and as time goes on there will be a clearer sense of the project's potential. 

Whatever the long-term prospects though, it has made us feel something again. After the drabness and disillusionment of Ghana, there is nothing to shake apathy quite like a proper sense of purpose and direction again.