The Golden Eaglets were not so golden with their showing last Saturday as they kicked off their quest for a sixth FIFA U-17 title. They finally crossed the finish line creditably by winning 4-2 despite trailing 1-2 initially.
The Eaglets needed three goals in a six-minute blitz – 79th, 81st and 85th minutes – to overcome a compact-looking Hungary team.
On Tuesday, they will file out against Ecuador for their second match at the Estadio Olimpico, Goiania. But this time, they cannot afford to repeat the mistakes they made against Hungary.
Must not start lethargically
The Hungarians opened the scoring in the second minute as the Eaglets started disjointedly and uncoordinated. They looked very unready – as if they had not successfully warmed up for the encounter and were caught out with the aggressive nature of the Hungary side. They started settling down to their game from about the 10th minute, but as soon as they got parity – they again lost their footing. Not many other teams will let them off the hook as the Hungarians did.
Must think less of long-distance shots
The Nigerian youngsters attempted 22 shots, with just nine on target and scored two headers. The two major culprits were captain Samson Tijani and Wisdom Ubani, who chose frequently to ‘try’ their luck from distance instead of passing to another mate, who was closer to the goal. Yeah, it might happen – once in a blue moon – but out of the 22 shots, it was only the deflected free-kick that made its way to the opposition goal. The team will be better served if they attempt one more pass nearer the opposition goal area instead of relying on luck from a distance.
Must stop using Tijani as the only offensive outlet
The captain of the Eaglets, Samson Tijani, scored two goals – the equaliser and the fourth goal – but it is pertinent to add that his goals came from dead-ball situations. The first was from the penalty spot and the second a deflected free-kick. He contributed seven of the total 22 shots the Eaglets amassed in the game and was the fulcrum of every offensive move. This stat makes it easy to throw a blanket over the Eaglets – just stop the carousel-like passing of the captain and all offensive thrusts will stop. Garba and his assistants have to create a situation that is not so obvious as to be so easily curtailed.
Must stop making irrational tackles
These are young players and there is the attitude of carefree happy-go-lucky nature to their play. But having stayed in camp and trained for a little while, it is expected that they should have attained some technical and tactical maturity. One lapse, especially concerning the central defenders, was their thought of winning balls in front of attackers, despite their starting positions being behind the strikers. It is an assumption that will continually get them in trouble. The coaches must tell the players to wait and try to shepherding the attackers away from goal instead of trying to win the ball and then leaving the path to their goal wide open.
Must not over-complicate matters
When you have been successful at a particular stage in the past, there is the tendency to overthink things – just like Coach Manu Garba did against Hungary. His best player, Akinwunmi Amoo, started on the bench and his best winger, Ibraheem Jabaar, also started on the bench. When he introduced the two in the second half, the whole complexion of the encounter changed in favour of the Nigerians. If Amoo and Jabaar are not carrying injuries, Garba must start them against Ecuador.
The Eaglets were not as smooth as they appeared at the CAF Nations Cup earlier in the year – this could be because just eight players from that team made it all the way to Brazil. As the whole point is not to win the trophy for the sixth time but to act as the starting point for the next set of football starts, the onus of the team is that many will eventually graduate to the Super Eagles. Winning it all will be a bonus – but just a bonus!