I get my kicks listening and reading the ‘informed’ opinion of Nigerian football fans. Where it concerns the Super Eagles, they almost always go overboard. The 2-0 loss to Serbia on Tuesday at a cold Hive was good for the fans, the coaches, the players and the Nigeria Football Federation.
The message was loud and clear – we are not there yet, but we have time! They say you learn more from a loss than a win, which corroborates what the Eagles captain, Mikel Obi, said on Twitter. “You don’t lose, you learn…”
And here are the things I saw that Gernot Rohr must learn and implement solutions before the team meets again in May.
Joel Obi cannot be Mikel Obi’s understudy
Joel Obi may develop into a calm influence on the ball in future but on the evidence of what we saw against Poland and Serbia, he cannot be the Eagles playmaker. God forbid anything happens to Mikel Obi at the World Cup then the Eagles will be in trouble, and under pressure. Is it too late to invite former U-23 captain to this team? Azubuike Okechukwu plays frequently for Yeni Malatyaspor in Turkey and has the mentality of a deep-lying playmaker, who is not averse to tackling and defending. We also have Oghenekaro Etebo, who has shown at Las Palmas he can dictate play with his intelligence and skill.
Caution needed in conceding free kicks and corner kicks
In the two matches against Poland and Serbia, the Super Eagles conceded 18 corner kicks; nine each in the two matches, that is way too much. There are two explanations: first, the full backs are not doing enough to ensure wingers do not get to the byline or two, the Eagles are allowing runners in behind the full-backs, which means they are overburdened – that is marking more than one player on the opponent’s transition.
The transition from defence to attack almost non-existent
In the two games over the FIFA window, the Eagles failed to show a clear construct in their play from defence to attack. The forwards did not look like they had trained together whilst the defenders opted to loft balls straight to the forwards. Though they showed some level of composure in their own half of the pitch, they immediately lost any iota of level-headedness as soon as they got to the last third.
Ighalo shows his worth
When Ahmed Musa started against Serbia, we thought it would improve the speed at which the Eagles would attack and show some quick interplay between the three forwards of Ighalo, Alex Iwobi, and Victor Moses but the reverse was the case. Immediately Ighalo jogged on at the beginning of the second half, the Eagles looked more balanced and more threatening. At the moment, Ighalo looks like the only competent No.9 in the team even though he needs to score more regularly.
Not creating chances
Against Poland, the only shot on target from the Super Eagles was the penalty goal from Victor Moses. Against Serbia, the team created three, which is a bad sign. It would have been better if they were creating chances and not taking them than not creating at all. It cannot just be because of Mikel Obi’s absence from the team. The coach must work out ways in which the best of the forwards will be exploited in creating chances against opponents.
At the World Cup, Croatia will certainly be better than the Polish and Serbian teams we faced in the last four days; the Icelanders will be more dogged in their defending and the exploitation of set pieces while Argentina will have the craftiness of Lionel Messi. For the Super Eagles to make it out of Group D in Russia, they must become better than the performances they produced against the Serbs and the Poles. It is not impossible because Rohr can still get some Nigerian player who will help solve these challenges. Whether he wants to upset the current core is another issue. But something has to be done!
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