NIGERIA 4, ARGENTINA 2: A HOPE-GIVING FRIENDLY INDEED!
he rather unexpected and scintillating defeat of the "La Albaceleste" of Argentina, by the "marvelous" Super Eagles of Nigeria, is indeed at this stage of the development of the Super Eagles, en route to the world cup tournament, in Russia, very welcome news! It was a beautiful way of kick starting Nigeria's world cup preparations. Nigerians are indeed thrilled at this development, but it does not mean the real work has been done; rather, this is the beginning of the real thing. The point to be made here is that the victory over Argentina, in a friendly match, does not automatically caterpult Nigeria to status of favourites at next year's world cup tournament. There is still a lot of work to be done, to get the Super Eagles really ready to achieve their real potential at the world cup tournament. Nigerians should thus not get too excited at the victory over the Argentinians. They should somewhat tinge their excitement with the realisation that this was a friendly match, played without the best player on the planet: Lionel Messi. A "Messi-less" Argentina, cannot be compared to an Argentinian team with Lionel Messi! If the Super Eagles were to meet the Argentinians at the world cup competition next year, with a Lionel Messi, in tow; in other words, in a competitive disposition, the Super Eagles would face a much bigger, better and fiercer resistance from the latin Americans!
The significance of the victory over the Argentinians, who were nonetheless quite formidable on that day, is that the Super Eagles would not be in Russia next year to simply make up the numbers!
How did the Super Eagles achieve such a significant victory against an Argentinian team that had the likes of: Banega, Kuhn Aguero, Javier Mascherano, Angel Di Maria, Paulo Dybala, and the other highly talented players, on display ? Meethinks the game was won in the head of the Super Eagles' technical crew, under leadership of Coach Rohr, even before the ball was kicked. Coach Rohr certainly studied the Argentinians very well, and developed in his head a tactical concept for not only stopping them on match day, but also for defeating them. He realised it wouldn't make sense playing football with them, as that would be 'suicidal', considering their array of highly talented players. He fashioned out a tactical defensive concept to stop them: the 5-3-2 formation!
In this tactical concept, Coach Rohr, used a five-man defence, that was made of three "standing" central defenders, that formed a 'wall' in front of the Nigerian defence, covering the right, left and central parts of the defence. He had two fullbacks in this defensive concept, that had the dual roles of defending, as well as overlapping and giving width to the attack, from the left and right sides. In other words, he had fullbacks, who also functioned as 'pseudo' or' false' wingers.
Coach Rohr, also had a three-man mid-field organisation, that had two "strictly" defensive mid-fielders and one offensive/ creative mid-fielder, who also functioned as a 'pseudo' central striker, in a Super Eagles' offensive disposition.
He had two mobile strikers, in a two-man attack, that traversed the entire length and breadth of the Super Eagles' offensive line.
However, in the first half of the match, this tactical concept, was not carried out to the letter! This was the reason the Argentinians had a field day in the first half, and out-played and virtually took the Super Eagles to the cleaners!
What went wrong with the implementation of the 5-3-2 formation in the first half? :
The reason from a personal assessment, had to do with the inability of the fullbacks to carry out their tactical obligations to the letter. They stayed behind defending without overlapping sufficiently to give width to the attack, even when the Super Eagles were on the offensive. Apparently, stamina issues, as a consequence of having played two matches in four days, took it's toll on them. Their inability to overlap sufficiently, apart from robbing the Super Eagles the needed width in attack, made it easier for the Argentinian defenders to 'crowd' around Nigeria's two strikers: Kelechi Ihenacho and Alex Iwobi, thus, whenever they were given a decent pass from the mid-field, they were easily dispossessed by the 'multitude' of Argentinian defenders, and, thus, the Argentinians, took advantage to start another round of offensive thrust towards the Nigerian territory. The Argentinian defence, thus, appeared impregnable in the first half!
However in the second half, the tactically astute and - erudite Coach Rohr, having analysed the situation, acted fast, by replacing the underperforming fullbacks, and of course the fumbling, bumbling goalkeeper: Daniel Akpeyi. He introduced two fresh, hungry fullbacks, who did his bidding. And of course a rookie goalkeeper, who confidently took charge of the goalposts and helped prevent the Argentinians from scoring again. The two fullbacks not only defended well, but brought about a lot of offensive enthusiasm, according to Coach Rohr's tactical dictates. As a consequence, the Argentinian defenders, who hitherto crowded around Nigeria's two strikers, were forced to spread out to the wings, to try to curb the threat that came from the overlapping fullbacks. Consequently, they somewhat 'thinned out' around Nigeria's two strikers, who now had more space to operate. Also as a consequence of the tactically performing fullbacks, John Mikel Obi, the Super Eagles' creative mid-fielder, in an offensive thrust, had more possibilities to give a pass. He could pass to the overlapping fullbacks, or to the two strikers who had slightly more freedom to operate. The net effect of these improvements in the Super Eagles' quality of play, in the second half, is that we saw a swinging, footballing team, that gradually degraded the Argentinian team; the once impregnable defence, was made to look porous. Thus, the goals flew in!
Let's analyse the players' performance on that day :
THE GOALKEEPER :
" Goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi, 4/10, was the weakest link in the team. He was not composed, may be because of the myriad of criticisms he has so far received. He made a mistake that cannot be tolerated, even at the lowest levels of professional soccer, which resulted in the Argentinian first goal! Going forward, meethinks he shouldn't be considered any more for a world cup place. If playing in the African qualifiers and top friendlies, can be so difficult, what would happen at the world cup tournament proper, where the stakes are highest? The time between now and the world cup, is too short a time to polish up a goalkeeper, who has apparently lost a decent measure of self confidence in his abilities!
THE DEFENDERS :
" Chidozie Awaziem, right- halfback, 7/10, was good on that day. He improved significantly on his performance in the game against the South-Africans, in June.
" William Troost- Ekong, alias "Rock of Gibralter", centre-halfback, 7/10, was good on that day.
" "Commander-General" Leon Balogun, left- halfback, 7/10, was also good, notwithstanding the fact he played through an injury, obtained in the Bundesliga.
" Shehu Abdullahi, alias "Man O' War", right- fullback, 5/10, was average, apparently for aforementioned reason.
" Ola Aina, 5/10, left-fullback, was also average.
THE MID-FIELDERS :
" John Ogu, defensive mid-fielder, 7/10. He showed marked improvement with regards his performance against the Algerians: he tackled more carefully, consequently, he avoided being booked and also he won his duels.
" Wilfred Ndidi, alias the "baggy bagger", defensive mid-fielder, 7/10. He carried out his responsibility well.
" The tactically erudite skipper John Obi Mikel, 8/10, was marvelous on that day. He carried out his twin responsibilities with dexterity.
THE ATTACKERS :
" The predaciously predacious Kelechi Ihenacho, 8/10, was very mobile as a striker. Over the two matches played: versus Algeria and - Argentina, he exhibited his mobility as a striker; and of course his dexterity with the free kicks to spare! He scored a goal and gave two decisive passes that resulted in two goals.
" "The dancing Krekel", Alex Iwobi, 8.5/10, was fantastic, and is the "man- of- the- match", of yours sincerely. The bad pitch in Algeria, apparently, prevented him from displaying to the fullest his quintessential skills. He had the opportunity in Russia, and took it with both hands!
THE SUBSTITUTES :
" Goalkeeper Francis Uzoho,7/10, for the fourty-five minutes he played, was good. He was confident and showed some nice reflexes. He gives us hope, in this 'troubled' department of the Super Eagles team.
" Tyronne Ebuehi, 7/10, was good. He showed his ability as a natural right- fullback. He weaved, he bobbed, he danced, he was flowery, skillful and quick in his overlapping runs. He reminds yours sincerely of a great fullback of yore: Yisa Shofoluwe or rather Yisa "Show -for -luwe "!!!!!
" Brian Idowu, 7/10, was also good, and capped a dream debut with a beautiful goal!
" "Field Marshall" Kenneth Omeruo, 6.5/10, for the minutes he played, did well.
" "The supersonic jet-heeled" Ahmed "Mansa" Musa, 6.5/10, did well for the minutes he played. He gave a vital pass that resulted in the fourth goal.
" Olanrewaju kayode, was on the field of play for too short a period of time to be evaluated.
In conclusion, the Super Eagles, on a player to player basis, or as a team, were not better than the Argentinians. But prevailed because they played a highly tactical defensive game, through which they not only disrupted, disoriented, but finally defeated the Argentinian team. It took a tactically sound coach to plot their defeat. That coach is: Coach Gernot Rohr!