The first thing I have to confess is that the U-23 national team playing in Senegal does not look like any Samson Siasia team of the past. We remember his team to the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where they took silver; to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where they also took silver – beaten by Argentina and Lionel Messi on both occasions.
So here we are in Senegal, and the team presented are unable to string together five passes starting from the goalkeeper. So there is something definitely wrong.
But the goal of going to Senegal is still achievable – getting to the 2016 Rio Olympics. So how can Nigeria defeat their West African neighbours to snatch a ticket to Rio when they file out to the Stade Léopold Sédar Senghor pitch on Wednesday afternoon?
The anticipation of danger
I believe that this team has played in gear two, which means that they have not played to their full potential. I also thought at first that the plastic pitch at the Caroline Faye Stadium in Mbour was the problem but after seeing their performance at the Leopold Senghor against Algeria – I have had a rethink. There seems to be a complete lack of sensing danger even when the ball is bouncing well. Goals don’t just happen – they are a culmination of mistakes or a consequence of a single mistake and the four goals conceded by Siasia’s team in Senegal have been culmination of mistakes – all started from a misplaced pass in their own half. The players need to have a greater sense of danger and play sensibly in very sensitive areas of the pitch.
Making intelligent individual decisions
The runs (intelligent ones) off the ball by team mates is what makes football easy on the eye when you watch teams like Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Napoli. The players are not magicians but the mantra is to provide at least three options to the player in possession. That has not been the case of Siasia’s team. The opponent finds it quite easy to read their play and close down the channels. I know that a lot of coaches just shout “pass and move” in training but really that is all football is about. The team that has the best movement, on and off the ball, will most of the time win the games.
There is an art to defending as well as attacking which is ingrained in players during their training sessions. Sometimes, it is called choreography (ask players of Manchester United) because you do it over and over in training until it has become a part of the players. Siasia’s team has not shown this quality in Senegal. They look more like they are getting to know each other during the tournament but we saw them play in Port Harcourt and their general organisation and play was definitely much better.
Technical coherence of the team’s play
The defenders seem not to understand the first rule of defending – showing the attacker away from goal and if possible to their weaker side. The U-23 defenders actually want to win every ball and do not know how to play safe. The midfielders have the tendency of holding on to the ball more than they should and the forwards do not know when to make their runs in behind the opponents. So you would ask – what have they been doing in training?
The semi-final against Senegal would be a hard game [though something tells me that the team will come good] because it is against the hosts, who won all three group games and have showed that they are both technical and powerful but the U-23 Eagles can beat them – if they play to their collective and individual abilities.