BY CLEMENT NWANKPA JR.
It was one of the most anticipated Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) debuts in recent times and everybody at the arena knew a special talent was on showcase.
It was the formal announcement of the arrival unto the scene of El-Kanemi’s teenage prodigy, Nura Mohammed.
Rangers would go on to beat El-Kanemi 1-0 in Enugu thanks to an 82nd minute strike by Kelvin Itoya but it was the El-Kanemi number 32 with a cultured left foot that caught the eyes for most part of the game.
When you are besieged by home fans for selfies after a game, you must have done something special. The fact is that most of them didn’t know anything about him prior to the game but the ‘small boy’ (as they termed him) kept them on their toes all through the game.
Whenever he was with the ball, the fans screamed; “Hold that small boy o! Hold that small boy o!!” That buttressed the impact he had on the game.
On a day Rangers struggled to string passes together, El-Kanemi’s possession-based game and Mohammed’s directness at goal kept the Rangers faithful on the edge.
El-Kanemi’s Razak Aliu, Sunday Anthony and Samuel Mathias bossed the middle of the park while Mohammed and sidekick Anthonio Dasusa made life difficult for Rangers defenders.
And what’s special about Mohammed? He has modelled his game after Arjen Robben, Lionel Messi and all the modern game’s attack-minded left footers. So he loves cutting in from the right and shooting with his left. Similarly, he doesn’t just wait for supplies. He could drop deeper to pull the strings himself.
Much has been said about the Internally Distressed People (IDP) camp resident who found succor in football via El-Kanemi; featured for El-Kanemi Feeders at the NPFL Under 15 Future Promises; forced his way into the main team during the preseason; caught the eyes of national team selectors during a preseason tournament and made the CHAN squad. All these before even kicking a ball professionally.
Was this all a hype? There had been no such case in the recent past. A player making the senior national team squad to a major tournament while awaiting his NPFL debut. On the evidence of this performance, the likes of Imama Amapakabor and Salisu Yusuf, who vested so much confidence in him should take a bow.
With just 12 minutes played, Mohammed’s footworks sufficed to set him clear at goal but his goal-bound effort was blocked by Semiu Liadi.
In the 30th minute, he popped up on the left flank, left Brownbraye Okpus sprawling on the floor, got to the byline but his cross was gathered by keeper Femi Thomas.
He replicated this move in the 45th minute. But this time, his inch-perfect delivery found Dasusa whose effort was cleared off the line.
If he wanted to cross the ball, he operated from the left and if he desired to aim at goal, he switched to the right. In the 52nd minute, he cut in from the right, opened his body, but his well-curled effort scratched the side net.
Rangers were guilty of forcing issues most of the time and El-Kanemi was the more settled on the ball. But Itoya reacted quickest during a goalmouth melee to grab the match winner. Little wonder some term football the cruel game.
So entertaining was the El-Kanemi display that the home fans at some point responded with rounds of applause.
Rangers also had their fair share of chances. For instance in the 16th minute, Solomon Okpako missed from close range with El-Kanemi keeper, Adamu Abubakar already displaced.
In the 26th minute, Okpako teed up Bright Silas who shot tamely into Abubakar’s hands. Ten minutes later, Abu Azeez’s effort posed little problems for Abubakar.
But there was a moment of brilliance and audacity in the 38th minute, when El-Kanemi’s Mathias saw Thomas off his line, hit the ball from the centre but Thomas tracked back to save the goal-bound effort. In the 72nd minute, Sunday Anthony’s shot was saved on a second attempt by Thomas. That summed up the thriller that was served at ‘The Cathedral’.