LESSONS FROM THE RATHER SURPRISING AND SHOCKING DEFEAT TO THE SOUTH-AFRICANS
t was indeed like a rather rude bolt out of the blues, at the end of ninety minutes! The Super Eagles of Nigeria lost to the "Bafana Bafana" of South-Africa, in the first match of the 2019 Nations' cup eliminator. This was indeed surprising! No one, not even the South-Africans themselves, vouched for a South-African victory. The Super Eagles of Nigeria, prior to the match-up against the South-Africans, were riding on a crest of a wave of a series of victorious outings, that culminated in an impressive six point gain in the first two outings of the 2018 World eliminator. These impressive series, was rounded off with the rather impressive build up to the South-African match, with the two week camping period, in France and Nigeria. The Super Eagles performed creditably well during the camping period, and rounded off their preparations, with an emphatic and an impressive, 3-0, victory against Togo; in which the new players shone like a million stars. Everthing, thus, looked upbeat for a resounding victory against the South-Africans. The question on my mind, and presumably on the minds of the numerous Super Eagles' supporters, far and wide, was with what margin, the Super Eagles would triumph over the South-Africans. But helaas it was not to be! In the later part of this article, we shall discuss what possibly went wrong on that day.
Let's start by analysing the players' performance on that day:
The Goalkeeper: Goalkeeper Akpeyi, in my considerd opinion, had a below average performance: 4/10. Up till this point in time, he is yet to convince yours sincerely, he is worthy of being called Nigeria's number two goalkeeper. While not blaming him solely for the defeat, one noticed during the match he didn't inspire confidence, in the way he went about his goalkeeping responsibilities. He apparently failed to take charge of the defence line, like a good goalkeeper would have done. For example, when the defenders strayed off line, he should have called them to order. Also his timing as a goalkeeper, remains suspect! For example, when he came out to collect a cross-field pass, or a lobbed high ball of the opponents, he sometimes missed the ball, further putting his defence line and consequently his team, in trouble. This contributed to the goal scored by the Senegalese, against Nigeria, in the friendly match, in London, in march 2017. This weakness manifested itself at least on one occassion against South-Africa.
My opinion about goalkeeper Akpeyi's performance, is not meant to castigate him, but to motivate him to up his game, if he wants to be a better goalkeeper.
Shehu Abdullahi, at right- back, was good on that day, notwithstanding having to play, in difficult circumstance, due to his religious dictates. He had an above average performance: 6/10. He was strong on man-to -man situations, and his overlapping runs were ok. Coach Rohr, needs not look further for a right-back, regardless of his tastes and preferences. With Kenneth Omeruo, Tyronne Ebuehi and Ola Aina, he already has enough cover in this part of the defence.
Elderson Echiejile, at left back, was ok. He put up an above average performance: 6/10. In my considerd opinion, he is presently Nigeria's best left back. However, in case he 'defaults' in performance, with: Kingsley Obi, Stanley Amuzie and Ola Aina, the Super Eagles have enough cover.
William Troost-Ekong, at centre-half back, was average, in performance: 5/10. Yours sincerely still considers him a player with a huge potential, that keeps on improving. Hopefully with more regular first team football, in his clubside next season, he would do even better. One deficiency noticeable in his game, is the inabilty to marshall his defence line. As centre-half back, that is his responsibilty. Yours sincerely advices him to watch video tapes of Joseph Yobo, marshalling the Super Eagles' defence ,as centre-half back.
Awaziem, at left-half back, was the weakest defender. He put up a below average performance: 4/10; may be as a result of nerves. He must be a player of quality, since he plays for a Portuguese first division team. Yours sincerely will advice him, to take his opportunity, with both hands, when next he has an opportunity. The places in this Super Eagles team can be 'volatile'!
Skipper Ogenyi Onazi, as defensive mid-fielder, put up an above average performance: 6/10. He did his best to the best of his ability. However, as skipper, one would have expected beter leadership, when it was clear most of the players were nervous!
Wilfred Ndidi, as central cum creative mid-fielder, put up an above average performance: 6/10. He was the" work man" of the team! However, his lack of technical finesse affected his performance as creative mid-fielder. We shall discuss this later on .
Simon Moses, as wing offensive mid-fielder, was in my considerd opinion, Nigeria's best player: 7/10. He was astounding! However, the deficiency in his game, has to do with the final pass or lob, he makes into the opponents' eighteen yard box, after a successful run down the flank. He should endeavour to cast one last glance into the opponents' eighteen yard box, before giving a final pass or lob. That way the chances of giving the ball to his team mate(s) would be higher, as opposed to passing, or lobbing the ball blindly, into the opponents' eighteen yard box, with the increased possibility of giving the ball to an opponent, which will make a mess of his efforts down the flank earlier on!
Alex Iwobi, was average: 5/10. Meethinks, Alex Iwobi's productivity, for the Super Eagles, would significantly improve, if he is positioned correctly on the field of play. He plays as a wing offensive mid-fielder; but meethinks he is more naturally adapted as a central offensive mid-fielder. A "number 10", playing behind the central striker(s). He lacks the speed and ruggedness of a winger, which he is suppossed to be, in a Super Eagles' offensive thrust! Whenever he gets the ball, in a Super Eagles' offensive thrust, he tends to move inwards (cutting -in ), while looking for a one-two combination. His repeated failure to sometimes move down the flank, robs the Super Eagles, the necessary width in attack, from his flank, which he is suppossed to provide as a winger!
Etebo Ogenekaro, was average: 5/10. My understanding of Coach Rohr's tactical set up, was to play Etebo Ogenekaro, as a supporting striker to Kelechi Iheanacho. But during the course of the match, Etebo, tended to fall back into mid-field. May be as a consequence of tactical fine- tuning during the course of the match, by Coach Rohr. This negatively affected Kelechi's performance: Lack of a twin strikers' partnership!
Kelechi Iheanacho, was below average: 4/10; not because of loss of form, but because of wrongly being played in Coach Rohr's tactical set up! Kelechi Iheanacho, is not a natural top 9! He funtions best in a" Twin strikers'" set up. That is one of the reasons, yours sincerely supported and still supports Coach Rohr's employment of the 4-4-2 formation. However, in the South-African match, Kelechi, was to all intents and purposes, used as a "top 9", or rather a" defacto No 9 ". Consequently, he was always sandwiched between the taller and stronger South-African defenders and consequently, easily dispossessed of the ball, time and time again! Kelechi lacks the physical ability needed to play as" top 9"!
Back to the earlier part of the analysis: why did the Super Eagles lose the match?
Mee thinks the following factors were responsible :
Firstly, most of the Super Eagles' players were nervous! They lost confidence in themselves, as soon as the match started. Apparently, the electric- charged atmosphere was too much for the nerves of most of them. They lost confidence in themselves and couldn't even control the ball well enough, to make decent passes! A much more composed Super Eagles' players, would have won the match.
Secondly, they lacked creativity in mid-field. Wilfred Ndidi, had a good work rate, but lacked the necessary technical finesse, to split open the South-African defence and provide the necessary defence-splitting passes, needed for the attackers to make hay. This deficiency, prevented the Super Eagles from creating clear-cut chances, during the match, even with superior ball possession!
Thirdly, Kelechi Iheanacho, was wrongly played as earlier stated.
Fourthly, the defence was badly organised. The two goals scored by South-Africa, and the near misses recorded by them, butress this point. One must point out that the organisation of the Super Eagles' defence, since the arrival of Coach Gernot Rohr, has not been optimal! Coach Rohr needs to work harder in this aspect of organising the Super Eagles.
Fifthly, the players apparently ran out of gas in the second half, may be as a consequence of the end of a long playing season.
Lastly, the Super Eagles, didn't play as a team. According to a Dutch commentator, they were like:" Losse sand "! In other words they played like a hastily assembled team. May be because of nervousness. The South-Africans played better as a team!
In conclusion, a highly talented, but inexperienced Super Eagles, lost to a less talented, but much more experienced South-African team! This makes the point that Coach Rohr, should tinge the youthful accent in his rebuilding of the Super Eagles, with a decent measure of experience! Experience, is always invaluable, in life's activities.
Also, Coach Rohr, should put a temporary hold, in his scouting for new players! He already has enough pool of players to draw from, to prosecute the rest of the World eliminator. He should concentrate on building the team he has at present; since soccer is a team event, this is very important!
Nigerians should not make a big deel out of this defeat to the South-Africans. This is not the time to 'destroy' the team with negative criticisms, but constructive criticisms, that would help the team. As long as Coach Rohr and the technical crew, synthesize, analyse and apply what they learned from the match, in the rebuilding process of the Super Eagles, yours sincerely would not worry. Nigerians should see the defeat as just a 'storm' in the Super Eagles' flight to greater heights! Mee thinks this defeat will serve as a blessing in disguise for the Super Eagles, as they prepare for the Indomitable Lions of Cameroun, in the World cup eliminator!
Yours sincerely believes in the Super Eagles of Nigeria!