Finidi passes audition with goals from Dessers, Lookman

Two goals in each half, one from Cyriel Dessers and a later one from substitute Ademola Lookman confirmed the Super Eagles’ recent dominance over the Black Stars of Ghana in a friendly played at Stade de Marrakech in Morocco,

In what was the 60th instalment of the West-African derby, there was a late consolation for Ghana from captain Jordan Ayew.

Interim Super Eagles coach Finidi George gave Benjamin Taminu a debut in a much-changed lineup. Wilfred Ndidi returned from injury to captain the side while only Stanley Nwabali, Semi Ajayi, Frank Onyeka, and Alex Iwobi survived from the team that started the AFCON final against Cote d’Ivoire.

The Eagles created the first scoring chance through Kelechi Iheanacho in the third minute, but Ghana goalkeeper Lawrence Ati-Zigi parried away for a corner kick. The match then settled into a physical contest as both midfield units tried to win possession as quickly as possible, which led to fouls from both sides. Iheanacho was again the protagonist in the 10th minute, but again, Ati-Zigi was alert to parry the danger.

By the 15th minute, the Black Stars’ goalkeeper had been forced into three saves while Nigeria’s goalkeeper Stanley Nwabali watched.

Cyriel Dessers was caught in two minds in the 30th minute as he tried to control Kelechi Iheanacho’s floated free kick when a first-time shot could have sufficed. Seven minutes later, the Moroccan referee, Jayed Jalal, awarded Nigeria a penalty for a handball, which the Ghanaians vehemently protested.

Dessers took the kick and sent Ati-Zigi the wrong way, to give the Eagles a deserved lead.

The Black Stars then opened up the Eagles’ defence for the first time in the 43rd minute, but both Chidozie Awaziem and Benjamin Taminu pressurised Antoine Semenyo into ballooning his attempt high over the bar.

The second half saw Ghana start quicker, and Tariq Lamptey dragged a shot wide from the edge of the box a minute into the half. Ajayi hacked Ghana’s captain Ayew down for a free kick 30 yards from the Nigeria goal before Iheanacho had a run on the Ghanaian goal in the 52nd minute, but flashed his effort wide off the left post. Ayew tested Nwabali for the first time with a driven header in the 54th minute, which the Chippa United goalkeeper parried for a corner.

After a corner kick, Jerome Opoku was shown a red card for insubordination. The Eagles spurned two goal-scoring chances in quick succession. First, in the 61st minute, Dessers diverted a low cross from Bruno Onyemaechi just wide, and then Onyemaechi skied a floated cross from Iwobi. The Fulham midfielder went through on goal in the 70th minute, but an apparent foul was waved away by the referee.

Coach Finidi made changes and sent on Moses Simon and Raphael Onyedika in place of Ndidi and Dessers. Semenyo then had another chance to snatch an equaliser, but Ayew’s inviting cross was just marginally long. Taminu had to be treated on the pitch in the 77th minute as the Black Stars threw caution to the wind in search of an equaliser. Ademola Lookman replaced the former Bendel Insurance defender.

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Nwabali saved from Lamptey in the 80th minute from a well-worked free kick. But it was the Eagles that scored the second goal, in the 85th minute, after an excellent combination between Iwobi, Iheanacho, and Lookman, who finished high over Ati-Zigi’s despairing dive.

Jamilu Collins replaced Onyemaechi in the 85th minute as the Eagles looked to coast home. Nwabali was again on his toes in the 89th minute to tip over Ayew’s free kick. After the ensuing corner kick, Semenyo headed wide and then needed treatment.

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Iheanacho had a chance for a third but wasted too much time after controlling the ball on his chest and then looking for a penalty award. Bright Osayi-Samuel gave away a needless penalty in the third minute, which Ayew nonchalantly dispatched to give the Black Stars a needed goal.

There was another Ghanaian penalty plea, which the referee waved away. The last action was a shot comfortably gathered by Nwabali as Finidi passed his Eagles audition.

The next match is against Mali on Tuesday at the same venue.

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