Nigeria headed into the Fifa Under-20 World Cup in Poland as one of the favourites to come out of Group D, and they got their campaign off to the perfect start with a 4-0 crushing of Qatar at the Tychy Stadium on Saturday.
The Flying Eagles started the game on the front foot and raced to a 2-0 lead in the space of 12 minutes via Maxwell Effiom and Henry Offia, both assisted by captain Ikouwem Utin.
Nigeria were absolutely dominant and utilised the left flank effectively in the first half, with Utin at the heart of the attacking moves. His quick feet, pace and vision able to find Effiom and Offia were consistent characteristics of the opening goals.
Paul Aigbogun’s boys looked to have fizzled out thereafter and this allowed the Qataris to try and force a comeback as they had more of the ball and created some good chances. However, they were let down by their ineffective forwards.
Great win by the Flying Eagles, getting an all important opening group victory. They'll however need to be more clinical and less sloppy in possession when meeting the United States next. #QATNGA #U20WC2019
— Olakunle FAYIGA (@kfayiga) May 24, 2019
It proved be the Arab nation’s biggest undoing, as their opponents would extend their advantage in the second half though the highly rated Tom Dele-Bashiru of Manchester City and centre-back Aliu Salawudeen. At this point, the West Africans got their groove back and could even have scored more.
It was a great showing from the team, but it is Utin that stands out for his Man of the Match performance.
The youngster continues to show just why he is a valuable player, after his stellar performance in leading the Eagles to fourth place in the Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Tanzania.
Though the squad were not at their outright best, Utin stood out as the most outstanding player which merited him a place in the tournament’s best XI. It also led him to being crowned the 2018 NFF Young Player of the Year.
The Nigerian skipper Ikouwem Utin is certainly making a name for himself.
— plasticpitch (@plasticpitch) May 24, 2019
Utin’s brilliance hasn’t just begun now, with the wideman having starred with the Super Eagles B team at the 2018 African Nations Championship in Morocco, going all the way to the final only to lose heavily to the hosts. The 19-year old was also a vital cog in the Enyimba squad that reached the Caf Confederation Cup semifinals last year.
He hasn’t played much club football this year due to national team commitments, but his display in Tychy on Friday evening has only raised his stock further, having joined Israeli outfit Maccabi Haifa recently.
Utin is on the standby list for the Afcon squad billed to play in Egypt in June, and it’s very clear that he needs to be involved with the senior team moving forward. Although Jamilu Collins is the current first choice left-back, the Paderborn player has not done enough to convince that he is worth having a regular berth in that spot.
Ikouwem Utim yet again with another dazzling display to set up Nigeria's second of the evening. The Super Eagles have struggled to get a replacement for Taye Taiwo in that left-back position, they can't look far away now. Can see Utin making that spot his very soon. #FIFAU20WC
— Godwin Odiko ⚽™ (@GodwinOdiko) May 24, 2019
For Utin, moving to Maccabi Haifa should be a step in the right direction and he could end up having a stellar time in the Israeli top flight, following in the footsteps of the likes of Yakubu Ayegbeni – who also featured for Haifa – Vincent Enyeama, Anthony Nwakaeme and John Ogu, did.
Utin is arguably the most explosive full-back since Taye Taiwo. Indeed, no other player in that position has come close to showing the kind of threat the former Marseille man had in his heyday with the Super Eagles, but with Utin showing consistent flashes of those qualities from time to time.
Gernot Rohr has a lot to think about.
On Monday, Nigeria face the United States – who lost 2-1 to Ukraine in the other opening Group D game in Bielsko-Biala – and will need their captain’s influence and attacking prowess to get a result that puts them closer to the Round of 16.
A group opening win is always very important and Nigeria must give Utin all of the praise for rising to the occasion once again.
Any more performances like this, and Rohr may have to consider making the full-back part of his final 23-man squad for the Nations Cup.