*Aiming for another brace against Argentina on Tuesday
Duro Ikhazuagbe in St Petersburg
The name on the lip of Nigerians and other Africans here at the World Cup in Russia is Ahmed Musa. The reason is not far fetched. The Leicester City player on loan at Russian army club, CSKA Moscow, on Friday afternoon in Volgograd returned Nigeria from the brink of going back home from the global football showpiece when he scored two quality goals against Iceland.
With the victory, Nigeria leapfrogged both Iceland and Argentina to the second spot of Group D behind Croatia going into the last fixtures on Tuesday evening in St Petersburg and Rostov-on-Don respectively. Eagles will file out against perennial group stage rival, Argentina, at the St Petersburg Stadium built on an island in the beautiful city while Croatia and Iceland square it out at the Rostov Arena for the group’s second ticket.
But before Tuesday comes, Nigerians here are still savouring the magic conjured up by the Jos-born Musa who is now the adored superstar in Gernot Rohr’s squad.
The first goal against Iceland was a counter-attack where Musa kept his cool admirably. He collected Victor Moses’ lob from the right mid air and fired a salvo that left Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson stranded. The second was similarly sparkling beautiful solo drive from the left side of the midfield, took out defender Kari Arnason then cut deeper to confront the goalkeeper who stretched in vain to stop him. With Halldorsson sprawling on the floor, Musa volley the ball into the net in between two Iceland defenders to secure the three points for Nigeria. It was not the first time that Musa was going to score at the Volgograd Stadium: He had always done so against the local club, FC Rotor Volgograd that uses the arena in the Russian topflight.
Instead of the former Kano Pillars top scorer taking full benefits for the brace, he attributed the glory to the entire playing personnel and the coaches. “It was the result of team work. I am part of a team, of which I am very proud of. So I would really like to thank them for all of their support. If my coach here (pointing at Gernot Rohr) did not give the opportunity to play, I will not be here talking about the goals.
Also asked at the post match conference if he was not scared that Nigeria was going to confront Argentina with their talismanic forward, Lionel Messi, on the side of the South American nation, Musa smiled his usual, with a half dimple on the left cheek before throwing light on the potentially high-wired clash between Nigeria and the former two-time world champions.
He recalled the two goals he scored in Nigeria’s 3-2 loss to Argentina in Porto Alegre during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. “You know what? I also remember another time that I scored two, for Leicester City. We were playing Barcelona, and Lionel Messi was in the side that day! Who knows? Another two goals may be on the way since Messi is going to be in the team on Tuesday.”
Musa insists that the match is a do-or die one for Super Eagles. “There is no going back on this game. It is our last match of the group and we need all the three points or at worst a draw for us to stand the chance of making it to the Last 16. It is at the end of the 90th minute we will know who carries the day (wins).
Interestingly, the new saviour of the Nigerian senior team for almost six months was surplus to requirements at Leicester City. He was hardly getting playing time. Former Coach Claudio Ranieri who won FA Cup for the Foxes was the one who convinced Musa to leave Moscow for England but after he was replaced by Craig Shakespare, the pacy forward lost his starting shirt and dropped in the pecking order to Demarai Grey. Musa then began to struggle with form that at point many Nigerian football fans began to doubt if he was not going to lose his place in the Super Eagles.
It was not until he returned to CSKA Moscow, the Russian top division team where he transferred to England, that Musa began to strut his skill on a weekly basis once more.
On this, Musa, who is very popular with Russian fans, remains eternally grateful to the team for giving him the lifeline that has now made him Nigeria’s all-time highest goal scorer in the World. Musa may yet earn another accolade as Africa’s top scorer in the Mundial if he is able to add more goals to his four to surpass the six-goal record held by Ghanaian Asamoah Gyan.
“First, I want to say I am very grateful to the CSKA management who gave me the opportunity to play football on a regular basis before the World Cup. If not, I will not have the chance to show what I can do at this stage here in Russia. However, personal glory is not what I am after but the overall success of the Nigerian team. If the opportunity comes, why not? I will grab it with two hands,” joked the player who is not going to be out of contract at Leicester until next two seasons.
Speculations are however rife that CSKA will pay any amount to lure the Nigerian star back to the VEB Arena home of CSKA Moscow.
“I know I am loved here in Russia. I still have a contract at Leicester but if the chance comes for me to return to the Russian league with CSKA, I will take it,” he concluded.