Referee not to blame for Eagles’ ouster; here’s what went wrong

Marcos Rojo's goal against Nigeria's Super Eagles
Marcos Rojo's goal against Nigeria's Super Eagles

With a migraine and a bruised hand (hitting the wall in frustration), I write this. For the fifth time in World Cup tournaments, Argentina beat Nigeria, with a one-goal margin. The first words that came to me the morning after the defeat was that of Osaze Odemwingie, as a CNN pundit when he said, “You need star players, you need people with cold blood who can finish and get goals – I think that’s lacking in our [African] teams at the moment.”

Then my mind raced to the 78th minute of the match on Tuesday, June 26, when Marcos Rojo, who eventually scored Argentina’s winning goal, headed a cross unto his left arm and a goal scoring chance fell to Odion Ighalo…the goal beckoned and glory for the Eagles but the China-based striker shot very wide.

Two minutes later, he raced in on goal but this time he was denied by Francis Armani, the debutant in goal for Argentina.

Some would want to blame the Turkish referee, Cuneyt Cakir, just like Mikel Obi did after the loss but we must not be taken over by emotion, there was no conspiracy – the Eagles just lost to a hungrier and more tactically-aware team.

Don Hutchinson, in his punditry work with ESPN, said afterward, “African teams have to learn how to win a game.” He explained that there are dark arts that are a part and parcel of the game but which African teams have not learned to use. A forlorn Wilfred Ndidi said the outcome of the match would have been different if the bench had made some tactical tweaks with the clock running down.

“Some tactical changes would have helped,” he told Kwese.

“Because it is just four minutes, [we needed] more defenders just to defend and even if we can’t go forward, just defend…do the African style, kick the ball away, it was just sad.”

In an interview session after the match, Ighalo acknowledged that his misses were largely responsible for the unfortunate ouster.

“I missed a couple of chances that would have finished the game but that’s football because sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. I apologise to Nigeria and I apologise to my teammates.”

Truly, the game is about small margins, concentration, and mistakes. For Argentina’s goal, Nigeria had five players to Argentina’s two but the cross still found an unmarked Rojo, who then produced an outstanding volley with his right foot, when he is normally a left-footer – small margins indeed!

Rohr definitely showed his big game naivety in the last 10 minutes. There should have been better game management by tweaking his starting formation, 3-5-2 to a 4-5-1 so that he would keep two banks of four as a defensive shield. In the seconds before Argentina scored, Victor Moses continued to attack when he should have been defending. Rohr will have learned a lot from the World Cup going forward.

The wounds are still fresh, which means people are still hurting and Ighalo has received some abuse [online troll] because of his glaring misses but the game of football is a collective one. The Eagles are a young team, one that can continue to grow and mature but we cannot afford to throw out the baby and the bathwater.

The Eagles’ wings have not been plucked; they have been pruned to sprout stronger feathers to aid a higher flight. We have a starting point for Qatar 2022 – let’s not miss the chance!

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