The new regime of 63-year-old Gernot Rohr as Super Eagles Technical Adviser kicked off on Saturday at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium. It was against the Taifa Stars of Tanzania and ended 0-0, though there were many positive insights and heart-rending negatives from the encounter.
More intensity in the play
The Eagles were not as pedantic as they have been in the past – where the team almost played at a walking pace. In Uyo on Saturday, there was urgency in the players’ overall movement what was gladdening. In as much as the match was of no consequence, the players showed intensity in their play – something Rohr will definitely work on when he gets the team together before their trip to Zambia in October.
Pressing high on the opponent
The Taifa Stars did not have as much time as they would have wanted on the ball as the Eagles pressed as a unit even though at times the movement was not well coordinated. But one could see the pattern develop throughout the encounter and that ensured that the Eagles played under far less pressure from their less illustrious opponents.
Iheanacho can thrive as a No.10
Kelechi Iheanacho has always shown the ability to link play from his U-17 days. This time, he had to fall deeper to get the ball but his pass-playing ability ensured he was able to open up the Tanzanian defence on many occasions with a through ball. Though it did not always work out, his movement on and off the ball was impressive.
Quicker movement and chances aplenty
The movement of the ball was quicker from back to front as it was clearly shown that playing against a team that wanted to defend and play on the counter. There was no lumping of the ball straight to the attackers to chase but in three to four passes; the Eagles moved the ball closer to the opponent’s goal. Though the Eagles managed just a goal against Tanzania, the way they were able to carve out chances at will and the speed with which they attacked at every opportunity showed that with more training sessions, the team would start to score more goals.
The fans and full capacity of the stadium
It was heartening to see the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium almost filled to the brim – even though the match had no consequence whatsoever. The fans were in support of their team even though they created and missed good chances. This did not deter the fans as they clearly enjoyed the spectacle and continued to support the players until Iheanacho scored the only goal. This is a good indicator of where the NFF should take the World Cup qualifying matches – no expedition to other places, please!
Diagonal balls were not good enough
It would have been a sore point that his team was not always able to shift the focus of their attack from one side of the pitch to the other. Though it has to be said that the players only had six training sessions together and the Chemistry could not have been developed as quickly as Rohr will have wanted.
The final ball was abysmal
The greatest undoing for the Eagles against the Taifa Stars was the gross inability to score when the chances presented themselves. Whether it was anxiety or a bouncy pitch or the fact that Odion Ighalo has continued to show that he needs a partner to do his best job remains to be seen. This would be a great worry to Rohr because not as many chances would be created against the likes of Zambia and Algeria.
Urgency to finish lacking
For all the urgency that the team displayed in getting to the final third, all seemed to dissipate as soon as the Tanzanian goalkeeper was sighted. From woeful shooting to abject decision-making, Rohr would have been terrified with how wasteful his players were in front of goal. This will have to be addressed immediately.
Musa Mohamed too offensive
Against more tactically prepared sides, Super Eagles right back for the match against Tanzania, Musa Mohamed, would be found out. All match long, he ran ahead of Ahmed Musa, making a counter more expedient for the opponent. He can also be a bit rash in the tackle and could be set up as the fall guy by an Algerian side full of experienced professionals.
Stadium needs better grounds men
With more than 99% of the players coming in from Europe – who play on pristine pitches all season long, it is only expedient that the pitch at the stadium should be prepared to world class standard. There were parts of the Uyo pitch that clearly showed the need for repairs as they bounced the ball unevenly. If that is prepared well, then the players will clearly transit seamlessly from their clubs to the national team.