Old records were either equalled or consigned to the bin on Monday in Agadir, Morocco, as the Super Eagles romped to a 10-0 win over minnows Sao Tome e Principe in the second game of their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Forward Victor Osimhen helped himself to four of the 10, tying the national team record for goals in a single game, a mark previously set by Elkanah Onyeali in 1959 and Rashidi Yekini in a 7-1 rout of Burkina Faso in 1993. It was also that long since Nigeria won a game by such a large margin.
Incidentally, that game almost 30 years ago was the playing debut of Finidi George, who is now the Super Eagles assistant coach. But one would have to go back 63 years -- to the same game in which Onyeali scored his four goals -- to find Nigeria's biggest-ever win in competitive football, when they (known as the Red Devils at the time) handed a 10-1 defeat to Dahomey (now the Republic of Benin) in a Kwame Nkrumah Cup game in Lagos.
But manager Jose Peseiro has plenty of room to add to his record-setting start in charge since officially taking the job in May. The result is also the biggest away win for Nigeria since a 4-0 win over Sudan in 2001, and the most goals away from home since beating Algeria 5-2 in Oran in 2005.
Records and goals aside, both the display and the final score would have had the coach purring in satisfaction.
Peseiro has made it clear that he wants his team to control the game for long stretches, something they failed to do in his first three games. This time they did just that, and the numbers -- look away now if you're a Sao Tome e Principe fan -- were more than a fair reflection of what a truly one-sided game was.
The Super Eagles enjoyed 66% possession with an 88% pass accuracy (compared to 71% for their opponents), and out-shot their hosts 27-4, with 17 of those on target compared to zero on target for the islanders. Basketball teams usually employ assists as a metric for judging how much work a team does to get to the basket as a reflection of team-based play. Judging by that, Nigeria would be pleased to see that seven of the 10 goals came with assists, including two from striker Osimhen and another from Moses Simon to add to the two he contributed against Sierra Leone.
If Peseiro wanted the perfect example of how he wanted his team to play, there could have been no better demonstration. There was teamwork and there was control; there were goals and there were outstanding individual performances.
Going into the match, Peseiro and his team had a huge point to prove. Two losses in friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador had led to a somewhat lukewarm reception for the new coach despite the limited time he'd been able to train them and the absence of key players. A labored win over Sierra Leone at home, on a horrendous pitch that saw his players hanging on for dear life in the closing minutes, barely improved his standing in the eyes of Nigeria fans. Guinea Bissau's 5-1 win over Sao Tome e Principe put additional pressure on Peseiro and his team, with expectations that their attacking talent could do better.
It was a challenge they were glad to accept, even if few expected them to do more than just claim a win based on recent history.
Supported by a pristine, world-class playing surface -- something they didn't have back home -- all of that changed within the opening half-hour. Osimhen's powerful header inside nine minutes was no more than the Super Eagles deserved for their one-sided pressure from the opening kickoff. Terem Moffi came close soon after, but Anastacio Braganca pulled off a fine save to deny the Lorient man. Simon doubled the tally two minutes shy of the half-hour mark, and Moffi added a third just before the break.
From that point on, it was clear that the question was just by how much the Nigerians would run up the score. Osimhen added three more in the second half, Oghenekaro Etebo whipped in a spectacular freekick, Moffi claimed a brace, and there were first international goals for Ademola Lookman and Emmanuel Dennis as the Super Eagles ran riot in a record breaking win. /p>
Despite his individual performance, four-goal Osimhen was still deliberate in crediting the new coach.
"Firstly, I will say congratulations to the whole team and, of course, big kudos to the coach," Osimhen said. "All the instructions he gave to us, I believe we carried out about 80 or 90% of them. Of course, I'm happy to get four goals, and I'm happy for my other teammates who got their goals as well. The likes of Lookman, Murphy and Dennis got their first goals as well.
"There is solidarity in the team, this is what the coach has taught us and I believe that as a group we have the quality to continue to build on this momentum."
It would be easy to dismiss the result by pointing to their opponents, who are ranked 183rd in the world and 50th in Africa compared to Nigeria (30 in the world, third-best in Africa). But over two legs against Seychelles, ranked 186th at the time, the Super Eagles only managed to score six goals and concede one. They also lost to the Central African Republic, at home. For further context, Ghana and South Africa only beat the same side by an aggregate of 4-1 and 6-2 over two legs respectively in the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying series. South Africa hosted both legs of the qualifier at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Peseiro was naturally pleased with the result, but he admitted that more work needed to be done.
"About the 10-0 win? Yes, it's good," he said. "It is better for us [to get] three points, which is more important to us. Of course, I want to improve our organization on the field because we didn't train too much with them. We want to introduce our ideas -- this match was good because they tried to follow our organisation, our style, our idea. I am also happy because the guys who entered during the match did as well as those players who started."
If Peseiro's first two games left many Nigerians doubting whether he was the right man to manage the Super Eagles, his next two, and certainly the most recent game, may just have blown those doubts to smithereens. Now, what is left is to build on these gains.
There will be a much more difficult test against the emerging Guinea Bissau in a doubleheader in September. The Guineans walloped Sao Tome e Principe in their first games and raced to a 2-0 lead at Sierra Leone until they had a man sent off and tied 2-2. How Peseiro negotiates those two games will be an even better tell as to what direction his tenure might lead. Win both and qualification is assured. Stumble, whether home or away, and the old doubts could well return.