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Men’s football Alternative Afcon - Cameroon turn on the style while Aribo impresses for Nigeria

JAMES NALTON discusses the Africa Cup of Nations tournament and highlights the stand-out teams and players so far

FOLLOWING a fairly tentative start to this year’s Africa Cup of Nations, hosts Cameroon put on a show on Thursday against Ethiopia, scoring four in a convincing win.

It was a refreshing, end to end game in which Ethiopia played their part, and lit up the tournament with goals to savour and names to celebrate.

It was especially welcome as after every team at the tournament had played once, only one game had seen multiple goals scored.

Results were either 1-0 or 0-0, bar the opener between Cameroon and Burkina Faso which finished 2-1 to the hosts.

When Dawa Hotessa gave Ethiopia the lead in Thursday’s game, it set up the prospect of either a huge upset or more goals.

The Indomitable Lions of Cameroon eventually came back into the game in style thanks to two goals apiece from Karl Toko Ekambi and Vincent Aboubakar.

Aboubakar’s brace means he now has four in the tournament so far, having also scored both his side’s goals from the penalty spot against Burkina Faso. 

The 29-year-old striker who plays his club football for Al-Nassr looks like he could be one of the star players for the hosts.

There were still some moments of interest within that run of binary scorelines, though, and one of the standout names who may not have made many “players to watch” shortlists prior to the tournament was Nigeria’s Joe Aribo.

Fans of his club side, Rangers, will have been happy he remained under the radar, but should he start regularly for Nigeria this month he will be difficult to miss.

A tall, rangy midfielder, Aribo could be key to bringing the best out of his nation’s array of attacking talent.

Even without the likes of Victor Osimhen and Emmanuel Dennis, head coach Augustine Eguavoen was still able to field an impressive forward line of Samuel Chukwueze, Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi, and Moses Simon.

And of all the 1-0 scorelines so far, Nigeria’s was the one that stood out as it came against one of the tournament favourites, Egypt, who boast one of the best players in the world in Mohamed Salah.

The Liverpool man was kept quiet while Leicester City forward Iheancho scored an outstanding goal to give his side the win in a game between two sides who will be aiming for the final.

But it was the performance of Aribo in midfield that will have raised eyebrows. He stood out both physically and technically alongside the more defensive Wilfred Ndidi.

The Rangers man assisted Iheanacho’s goal, arriving from midfield to the edge of the box and knocking the ball down from Simon’s deflected cross.

Born in London to Nigerian parents Aribo was also eligible to represent England, but had no doubts as to which nation he would eventually choose should the opportunity to play international football arise.

The 25-year-old is billed at a height of 6ft, but when he’s on his game in midfield his stature can seem more like that of one of his idols, the 6ft 6in Nwankwo Kanu.

His style as well as his position is slightly different to that of Kanu, though. He can be a driving force in midfield who uses his strengths to help his team advance either by carrying the ball forward or finding attacking teammates.

Another player Aribo looked up to, and another reason he chose to represent Nigeria, is Jay-Jay Okocha, and there are certainly some similarities in terms of the occasional piece of skill and entertaining flair on the football pitch.

Aribo is not yet at the level of the aforementioned Nigerian legends, but continued good performances in Cameroon would attract interest from the many European clubs who have scouts keeping an eye on this tournament.

Nigeria face Sudan later tomorrow in a match they will be expected to win. 

It’s a different type of pressure to that which they faced against the much-fancied Egypt, and they will need plenty of guile to break down a Sudan side who were involved in a goalless draw with Guinea-Bissau in their opener. 

Aribo may well be the man to provide it.

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