SHOULDER to shoulder, square on, their hands down by their sides, covering their angles, checking their flanks, shouting in Afrikaans, in Xhosa, in Zulu, their faces blurred, their hearts pounding, the South Africans attempted to contain the threat.But this particular threat couldn’t be contained.
Ahmed Musa steadily cut inside from the left, that little cha-cha-cha dribble he does so well, lead by his shoulders, balance at its limit.
South Africa backed off, fatally, their joints stiffening beneath the armour that distance provides. The sniff of an invitation was more than enough. Musa lent back, and with the precision of a sculptor, sent an angled strike across goal and into Itumelung Khune’s far post.
The keeper fell to all floors, a baby struggling to walk, resorting to a crawl—for a moment, it must have been how South Africa felt when Musa stuck. Boys playing against men.
For one, brief solitary second, decision or no decision, all was well in Nigeria.
For a moment, we were back in those halcyon days of 2013.
For a minute, we were African champions again, and the dross of 2014, the Stephen Keshi conundrum, the broken tables in the Glass House were forgotten.
Of course, it didn’t last.
Minutes later, South Africa equalised. Nigeria had thrown away a lead, but they weren’t back to square one.
There’s life in the old dog yet.
Super Eagles supporters were quick to jump on the Ahmed Musa bandwagon. One Goal Nigeria writer who will—out of respect—remain unnamed, was quick to christen the CSKA Moscow forward as Nigeria’s ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’, while memories of the ‘Anything Messi can do, Musa can do better’ hashtag from the 2014 World Cup brought nostalgic smiles.
In times of desperation, any hero will do.
Sailors stranded in an ocean will cling at any driftwood to survive. In Musa, Nigeria may just have found an empty lifeboat, a lifejacket and a bottle of rum.
One by one, Nigeria’s traditional heroes, the usual suspects, have shown themselves to be cardboard and confetti, rather then crystal and carnelian.
John Obi Mikel attracts more criticism than the INEC website attracts online bandits, Victor Moses has struggled to recreate the messianic form he showed at the 2013 Cup of Nations, while Emmanuel Emenike is about as effective as a wet tissue.
The Big Boss’s managerial acumen disappeared quicker than Finidi George’s career, while Vincent Enyeama—and all of his beautiful consistency—is 32 and, as if to enforce the fact that age is not his friend, has a bad back!
Musa, wearing the captain’s armband with as much pride he would an Afcon winner’s medal, was superb against South Africa.
Can Musa guide the Super Eagles out of their current malaise?
He performed with the maturity and the poise of a 50-cap veteran rather than with the coarseness and the rashness of many other 22-year-olds.
Musa is not the answer to all of our problems; he cannot teach Efe Ambrose how to be a right-back, he cannot make Enyeama five years younger, he cannot give Emenike his confidence back, but he can help to reignite the Super Eagles and at least ensure that pride returns to the national side.
Musa may just be the answer that has been waiting under our noses for some time.
He is experienced, despite his youth, he regularly performs in the Champions League (how many Nigerians can say that these days?) and consistently finds the net in the Russian Premier League, where he has won multiple championships.
He is also versatile. While I believe his talents would be (and were) wasted on the right side, he can excel as a central striker—as he often does in Russia—or off a frontman.
Maybe he will flourish as a Number 10 later in his career, but for now, Super Eagles fans ought to be content with Musa on the left side of a front three or an offensive three behind a central striker.
Here, he as the pace to go on the outside of the full-back, and he has the sublime right foot—as South Africa know only too well—to cut inside and strike at goal.
From a Nigerian perspective, Musa has also ‘been there and done that’.
He was, of course, among the 23 who won the African crown in 2013—intriguingly, only five of whom were present against South Africa—and was also started at both the Confederation Cup later that year and the World Cup in Brazil last summer.
Here, he unforgettably demonstrated his class with a sublime double against Argentina.
For 45 minutes, at least, he was equal with the world’s greatest-Lionel Messi.
If Musa is to lead Nigeria back from the wilderness—as captain or otherwise—he must begin to make an impact more regularly.
That brace against Argentina was his first international goal in over a year, since the late superb effort against Kenya in a World Cup qualifier.
After that double, he didn’t score again until burying Sudan with a brace during the Afcon qualifiers.
He has scored three in his last nine for Nigeria, compared with four in his last six (including two assists) for CSKA.