How debutant Joe Aribo won Super Eagles’ fans hearts with Man-of-the-Match performance vs Ukraine

Joe Aribo scored on his Super Eagles debut and delivered a man of the match performance that left a number of fans drooling as Nigeria ironed out a 2-2 draw with hosts Ukraine at the Dnipro Arena on Tuesday night.

Fans had been warned before the game to expect some fireworks from the Glasgow Rangers midfielder but not many reckon they would be forced, on watching Aribo, to reminisce about the good old Austin Okocha days.

Of the four newly invited youngsters, only Joe Aribo was handed a starting shirt by the head coach, slotting right in the hole left behind by the unavailable Wilfred Ndidi.

And it didn’t take long for the Ranger to show fans why he comes so highly rated.

Four minutes into the game and Nigeria had the lead, no small thanks to Samuel Kalu who weaved and turned on the edge of the box before releasing Alex Iwobi, who in turn fed the ball into the six-yard area where Aribo was on hand to turn it home.

That was to be the summary of Aribo night’s story: one minute the former Charlton Athletic man is protecting his defense at the edge of his team’s penalty area, the next he is galloping forward to get in the end of a cute cross in the opponent’s box.

Yet, his game had more about it than just mindless to and fro running and a show-off of an endlessly running super engine where his heart should be. Ayodele Aribo was the Super Eagles midfield puppet master, pulling the strings in the middle, turning away from dangerous attentions and making the right decisions almost every time.

It was by far the finest debut performance from any Nigerian player in recent memory.

If you missed the game, just think of a left-legged, modern day Austin Okocha, fitted with Sunday Oliseh’s long legs and powered by the heart-engine of Michael Essien. That’s Aribo.

The Super Eagles attack against Ukraine was scary. Young but speedy, sexy and scary. Victor Osimhen had the Yellow Men’s defenders eating from his leftovers. Samuel Kalu had his best outing in a Super Eagles jersey. Samuel Chukwueze was a terror on the right flank all night. Those three attackers were until a few months ago just teenagers. It’s so pleasing to be introduced to a midfielder who can provide them ample service in the long term.

Joe is only just 23 and make no mistake about it, he is here to stay. It might be difficult to see how Gernot Rohr intends to cramp the four of Etebo, Ndidi, Iwobi and Aribo into a three-man midfield but that’s the kind of selection headache every top quality coach would be delighted to have.

The defense might still be shaky and suspect but the team as a whole is a work in progress. The lads will improve. Quality games like the Ukraine tie will help in that regard. All Super Eagles fans can do is relax and enjoy the ride. The future is bright with Aribo in it.

Alex Iwobi may be Jay Jay’s nephew but Joe Aribo is Okocha’s heir apparent and we are no bums to fall in love with him so.

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