Duro Ikhazuagbe in Port Harcourt
World Cup-bound Super Eagles were forced to a one-all stalemate by Democratic Republic of Congo at an international friendly played at the Adokiye Amiesimaka Stadium in Port Harcourt yesterday evening.
The three-time African champions who played the game without four regular players in the starting line up like John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Odion Ighalo and Wilfred Ndidi, showed flashes of a great team in the making but lacking quality in the full backs.
Central defender, William Troost-Ekong, whose partnership with Leon Balogun kept the Congolese at bay, was the unlikely scorer of the opening goal barely 14 minutes into the packed arena.
He skillfully slotted home a loose ball in the box after Leicester City man, Kelechi Iheanacho, failed to latch on to a nice free kick taken by Ogenyi Onazi.
Eagles were the better team into the first half break as they enjoyed better ball possession to the delight of cheering Port Harcourt fans.
But the Congolese fought back gamely in the 78th when Issam Mpeko converted a penalty resulting from an infringement inside Eaglesâ€™ box by Ola Aina who was barely minutes into the game after coming in as substitute for Elderson Echiejile.
Although it appears that most Super Eagles players played with caution to avoid unnecessary injury that could stop them from going to the Mundial in Russia. Iheanacho was the major culprit with his lackadaisical attitude on the ball.
Earlier, the game was not without several moments for Nigerian ball fans to cheer. As early as the third minute, FC Crotone Simeon Nwankwoâ€™s left-footed shot from inside the box hit the crossbar with the DR Congo goalkeeper stranded.
Iheanacho similarly had moments to show his stuff but struggled on the poor looking pitch and so could not put away another clear-cut chance after he was put through on goal from midfield.
Congoâ€™s Bournemouth striker, Benik Afobe, tested the agility of Francis Uzoho after he evaded the marking of the Nigeria defenders before his goal-bound shot was somehow kept away by the young Deportivo La Coruna shot stopper.
Ekong was named Man of the Match, and was rewarded with N1million cash and 10 bags of Big Bull rice by NFF partner TGI.
He also got a brand-new Apache TRT 1600 model motorcycle, as well as a brand-new Tricycle from NFF partner Simba Group. Coach Gernot Rohr got a brand-new Apache TRT 1600 model motorcycle as well.
On Wednesday, the delegation will fly to London aboard a chartered aircraft, for Saturdayâ€™s prestige friendly against Englandâ€™s Three Lions (also Russia â€“bound) at Wembley Stadium.
Speaking after the match, DR Congo Head Coach, Florent Ikwange Ibenge, told THISDAY that he was happy with the result of the match.
He stressed that he came to Nigeria with his strong squad in order to give Gernot Rohr and his coaching crew the opportunity to gauge the team they are taking to the World Cup
â€œWe came here to ensure that Nigeria coaches select a very good team to represent Africa at the World Cup,â€ stressed the Simba of Congo coach.
Ibenge however said that despite the draw, Nigeria is capable of making a good showing in Russia if the right players are selected from the array of stars available to pick from.