Friday, June 28, 2013

Ides of June: Second Half Report

THE Super Eagles completed their “busy” June 2013 fixture programme last Sunday when they were knocked out of the FIFA Confederations Cup by world and double European champions Spain Final score: Nigeria 0, Spain 3.

In their two earlier group matches, the Eagles had beaten Oceania champions Tahiti 6-1 and lost to South American champions Uruguay 2-1. With one win and two losses, Nigeria finished third in her group and fifth overall in the competition ahead of  Mexico and Japan, thanks to the minnows from Tahiti! But we’ll take it anyway.

Beyond the statistics, however, is the more important consideration of the Eagles’ performance. There’s little to be said about the performance that has not been said by Nwankwo Kanu, John Mastoroudes and Segun Odegbami, the experts lined up by Complete Sports to analyse the still on-going Confederations Cup. I don’t mind saying so myself, but I know that readers will agree with me that the analyses by the trio have been absolutely spot on and unrivalled by any other on our shores. Confirmation of this lies in the feedback that we have received via our Facebook page and Twitter handle as well as our SMS and mobile platforms which are captured on our brand new column, e-Complete Sports. It’s been great fun covering this competition.

But this article really is about the Eagles performance at the Confederations Cup and what it bodes for Nigeria’s primary target of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. In my “half-way report” on the Ides of June last week, following the friendly against Mexico and the two World Cup qualifiers against Kenya and Namibia in the first half of the month, I had concluded thus: “Clearly, Nigeria is having difficulty scoring goals compared with our rivals-in-waiting (in the final round of Africa’s World Cup qualifiers). What the Eagles  need now is an intelligent playmaker with the natural flair to consistently deliver clever passes to our strikers. And when the passes come, we need strikers with the focus and composure to consistently put the ball in the net. Will we see any signs of those improvements at the Confederations Cup?”

Now, we know the answers.

There was an improvement in “play-making” as  the Eagles, showing a highly impressive degree of team-work and ball possession, created chance after chance against Tahiti, Uruguay and even Spain. But there was a glaring lack of improvement in “goal-scoring” as the majority of the chances created were frittered away by woeful finishing and  lack of composure in front of goal. Here’s my game-by-game summary...

Game One: Nigeria 6, Tahiti 1: The Eagles’ poorest performance ironically produced their only win, but that is because their opponents were amateurs. Upfront, the school boy misses by Ahmed Musa, Brown Ideye and Anthony Ujah who couldn’t put away several one-on-one chances against the Tahitian goalkeeper stood out even more than the hat-trick scored by Nnamdi Oduamadi. And in defence, the fact that Tahiti’s goal against the Eagles was the only one they scored in the entire tournament tells its own story. Overall, it was a poor outing by the Super Eagles.

Game Two: Nigeria 1, Uruguay 2: A much improved performance by the Eagles despite the loss. It must be noted, however, that while the Eagles “controlled” the game for long spells by keeping ball possession and dictating the pace of the game, they did not necessarily “dominate” their opponents because most of Nigeria’s ball possession and passing took place in our defence and midfield areas, rather than upfront where we needed to constantly create trouble for the Uruguay defence.

In the end, Uruguay did just enough to win the game by conceding possession to Nigeria and conserving energy to take their chance. The “chance” duly came when Musa lost the ball in midfield and a quick interchange of passes amongst Luiz Suarez, Edison Cavani and Diego Forlan ended with Forlan blasting an unstoppable winner past Enyeama. Apart from that match-winning moment, the Nigerian defence actually coped well against three of the best strikers in world football.

Notable also was Mikel Obi’s influence in our offensive play which he capped with a superb goal. A good performance overall by the Eagles, despite the loss.

Game Three: Nigeria 0, Spain 3: Truth be told, Nigeria was flattered by the scoreline. Although the Eagles put up a good fight against the best team in the world and could have scored a couple of goals themselves, the gulf in class between the sides was there for all to see. Nigeria created many anxious moments for the world champions, but Spain really hardly moved out of first gear.

Many observers have said Jordi Alba’s early goal affected the Eagles negatively, but I think it actually helped Nigeria. In my estimation, the early goal made Spain to relax and that allowed Nigeria to settle down and control the game at a comfortable pace for most of the first half.

The Spaniards, without exerting much pressure, simply waited for our defence to make mistakes and Soldado (twice) and Cesc Fabregas came close to punishing us. When they stepped up the pace in the second half, two more goals resulted from their quick thinking and quick movements. Godfrey Oboabona was left kicking thin air by Fernando Torres for the second goal while Alba raced to a quickly taken free kick to round Enyeama and score as the Nigerian defenders were caught sleeping again.

By contrast, Nigeria could not take any of the several chances we created because our strikers failed the test of  composure yet again. The biggest culprits were Ideye (again) and Gambo Mohammed who had glorious opportunities but lacked the calmness and confidence to apply the finish.

The Positives: The “rebuilding project” by Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi is finally bearing fruit. A new team capable of playing cohesively has emerged. The Eagles now pass the ball confidently from defence into midfield and into attack rather than just kicking it upfield. They are capable of holding ball possession for long periods even against the best teams in the world. They play deliberate, unhurried football with a clearly discernible pattern. And when they are fully concentrated, the defence line can neutralize some of the best strikers in world football. Considering the fact that the Eagles were missing several key players at the Confederations Cup, their overall performance can be rated well above average. If they qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the Eagles will present a much stiffer opposition to the big teams when they return to Brazil next year.

The Negatives: Even in the absence of Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses and Ogenyi Onazi who were key regular members of the team at the Africa Cup of Nations, the Eagles should still have done a lot better in goal-scoring at the Confederations Cup. Some of the misses by Ideye, Musa and Gambo were simply unpardonable. Stephen Keshi has lots of work to do teaching his strikers how to put the ball in the net. Otherwise, he has to extend his search for better alternatives.

In defence, the Eagles still suffer from very costly loss of concentration. All the six goals they conceded in the tournament could have been avoided if the players were alert. You could say 100 percent concentration for 90 minutes is impossible in football, otherwise goals will never be scored. But it is always better to make your opponent work hard for their goals rather than gift them the goals on a platter because you’re not focused in defence.

The midfield where Mikel Obi directed proceedings was  Nigeria’s best department at the tournament. That is not surprising because, let’s face it, Mikel is clearly the only truly world-class player in our team by virtue of his experience playing for Chelsea Football Club. It was because our midfield functioned effectivelly that we were able to command so much ball possession in all our three games.

The Lessons: Super Eagles have shown at the Confederations Cup that Nigeria is capable of playing good football even against the best teams in the world which is very reassuring. Now we need to refine all the rough edges of the team particularly in defence and in attack where the cutting edge is presently lacking.

One major lesson from the Confed Cup is the  confirmation that the style of opposition at the world stage is completely different from what obtains in Africa. Spain and Uruguay obviously have greater qualities than Kenya, Namibia and Malawi. But while the Super Eagles performed creditably against the Europeans and the South Americans in Brazil, they had earlier struggled against their continental rivals on African soil. Reason for this is that while Xavi or Andres Iniesta will simply “sail over” and allow our Mikel Obi to run past with the ball in midfield, knowing they can win it back fairly, an aggressive home-based Namibian opponent will simply hack down Mikel just to prove a point! For sure, football on the African continent is open warfare.

Bearing this in mind, the Super Eagles must not take their remaining World Cup qualifiers lightly, despite their promising showing in Brazil. They must prepare for war when Malawi visit Nigeria for our last group match in September, and for a greater war when the final round will be played against a yet unknown African foe in October/November.

The Eagles have shown they can impress and ruffle some weathers at the World Cup finals next year, but they have to qualify first. That’s the initial goal.

At the start of May this year when I wrote, “Beware, the Ides of June,” my secret fear was that the Super Eagles may implode by the time their six-match fixture of friendly (versus Mexico), World Cup qualifiers (versus Kenya and Namibia) and Confed Cup matches (versus Tahiti, Uruguay and Spain) would have been completed. To my great relief, I dare say that the Eagles have emerged from the month a stronger and more reassuring team. And unlike Julius Ceasar who didn’t survive the warning of the seer about the Ides of March, the Super Eagles have survived the Ides of June with great hopes for the future.

The Road to Brazil

AFTER my article had gone to bed last week, FIFA released the format for the final round of the African World Cup qualifiers which shows that the top five African countries on the FIFA/Coca-Cola monthly rankings at the time of the draw (presumably in September 2013) will be seeded.

If the countries presently topping the 10 African qualifying  groups were to finish like that in September, the 10 teams that will play the final round would be (A) Ethiopia, (B) Tunisia (C) Cote d’Ivoire (D) Ghana (E) Congo (F) Nigeria (G) Egypt (H) Algeria (I) Libya and (J) Senegal.

The current FIFA rankings of those 10 countries in order of seniority are Cote d’Ivoire (13), Ghana (21), Nigeria (31), Algeria (35), Tunisia (42), Libya (69), Egypt (71), Congo (80), Senegal (99) and Ethiopia (106). If they all maintain those rankings by September and they qualify for the final round, Nigeria would be seeded alongside Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Algeria and Tunisi. Our final round opponents would therefore emerge from the bottom five consisting of Lybia, Egypt, Congo, Senegal and Ethiopia. Of that lot, only Egypt and Congo are sure bets as of now. Cameroun can still overtake Libya, South Africa have a second chance to overtake Ethiopia while Uganda, can still eliminate Senegal. It is from this lot that Nigeria’s final round opponent will emerge, assuming the Eagles also qualify for the final round ahead of Malawi and we keep our place in the African top five.

The road to Brazil is clear now.

FEEDBACK

*COACH Stephen Keshi should stop disgracing Nigeria with his experiment. It is clear to us all that the Super Eagles lack a quality bench. Dele Adeleye, Lukman Haruna, Obafemi Martins, Taye Taiwo and Ikechukwu Uche are supposed to be in that team to Brazil. The Confederations Cup is a different ball game from the African Cup of Nations - this is fooball at it’s best. A team that struggled against Kenya, Namibia, Malawi and Mexico need expirenced players. - Patrick Nwafor, Benin City.

*Keshi still has a lot to do as regards coaching the Super Eagles. He hasn’t taught the strikers how to score goals or react positively in front of goal. Our strikers are indecisive in front of goal and mostly waste precious time trying to control the ball and get into position before shooting - no good defence will allow such. Rather, our strikers need spontaneous spark of voluntary reaction in kicking the ball into the oponents net at first touch. - Pastor Steve Buko.

*Oga Mumuni, greetings. I am an ardent follower of Soccertalk and I can say you people are really doing a good job with Complete Sports, kudos. Now, I’m beginning to read in-between the lines about recent utterances of the NFF and I hope I’ll be proved wrong. The football house are now accusing Stephen Keshi of supporting the players in demanding for their bonuses. I believe Nigeria will qualify for the World Cup but the NFF must not use that as an excuse to sack him and stop him from leading the Eagles to Brazil next year. The NFF has done that in the past to a number of coaches but this time around, the coach must reap the reward of his labour. --07056753274

*By now, Nigerian teams should learn to play tactically and stop depending on talent and power alone. The Super Eagles were a sorry sight against top opposition like Uruguay and Spain as we saw recently at the Confederations Cup. - Alase Adeshina.

*As regards the bonus row, I believe the Super Eagles players did the right thing under the circumstances. The situation where some NFF officials use Nigerian taxpayers money to fly their cohorts to match venues outside Nigeria need to stop. The players see what these officials do and are well aware of their excesses. Besides, it is time we put the right people in charge to manage our football professionally. - Demola Chelsea.

*People should realise that the era of playing football for passion is over. Now, money is the name of the game. I think the Super Eagles players have expended the largeese they got after the AFCON. For them to claim they are not aware of NFF’s present financial situation is wicked. Our players are simply greedy. - Don Vinozi, Ijanikin.

*I think the Super Eagles did their best at the Confederation Cup even though it wasn’t good enough. What the team lacks is quality goalscorers who are gifted in putting the ball behind the goalkeepers. It is now left for Stephen Keshi to plug the loopholes in the team before we get to the World Cup next year. Against most African opposition, we can still manage but when the chips are down at the highest level which is the World Cup, our attacking frailties will be exposed as we have just witnessed. - Adegboyega Joshua, Agidingbi, Ikeja.

*Mumini, I had wondered how Keshi was going to keep his unbeaten record as Super Eagles coach in official games at the Confederations Cup. I can not remember when last the Super Eagles lost 3-0. Could it be against the then world number one, Brazil in Abuja in a friendly in 2003? - Howard Odigie, Lagos.--Yes, you are correct.

*I want to plead with you Sir, to use your media or weekly column (Soccertalk) to advise Stephen Keshi to look for quality strikers with good dribbling skills and intelligence to complement his team. - Super Eagles fan from Warri.



3 comments:

  1. Oga Mumini,
    I watched with horror a sports programme on Thursday night: Clips of an interview of Aminu Maigari conducted by Collin Udoh in the aftermath of the Confederations Cup.
    A summary of the response by Maigari(not his exact words): ...the team belongs to everybody...one individual cannot be allowed to determine the composition of this team...every one of 165 million Nigerians have a say in the composition of this team...The NFF's door is always open for contributions from the public on how to take this team forward...
    THIS IS THE LAUGHABLE REASONING OF NIGERIA'S TOP FOOTBALL ADMINISTRATOR.
    This is another instance of utter administrative cluelessness that explains the wide gulf between Nigeria's playing prowess and Nigeria's administative capacity.
    So the NFF in their wisdom prefers 165 million Nigerians to decide the composition of the Super Eagles!
    This surely must be an eye-opener to those still pointing accusing fingers at Keshi for his 'disregard for protocol and authority' in announcing his resignation immediately after the AFCON triumph. Just look at the ridiculous institution Keshi has to put up with.
    It is instructive that while a host of football brains are applauding the progress made in 18 months, the wise heads at the Glass House are thumbing down Keshi's project.
    Maigari must be told that the CONTRIBUTION OF NFF towards the Super Eagles begins and ends at providing the enabling environment for Keshi to to his job. Period.
    Neither the NFF nor 165 Million Nigerians have any business determining the composition of the team. That is Keshi's job. That is Keshi's contract.
    165 Million Nigerians may criticize or applaud Keshi's decisions as they deem fit, but cannot impose their wishes on Keshi.
    That is the only way Keshi must live and die by his decisions.
    That is why the coach gets fired when the team fails. Not the NFF Chairman. Certainly not 165 Million Nigerians.
    It is only on some banana planet inhabited by the NFF chieftains that fans are given authority to select players for a team.
    Sad that those who are mandated to run our football continue to shame some of us.

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  2. " The midfield where Mikel Obi directed proceedings was Nigeria's best department at the tournament". That was a midfield comprised of Fegor, Mba, and experimental Ogu yet they still held their own against the world's best. Mikel is absolutely not the only world class player in the current Super Eagles, Ogenyi Onazi is the engine room of that team. Moses is also a very skillful player who can combine well with Mikel and Onazi in a purposeful attacking 4-3-3. I really like the 4-4-2 but we lack wingers in the mold of Finidi and Amuneke. The return to form of Inter Milan's Joel Obi as a possible joker will be a massive boost. The likes of Lukman Haruna as well as Flying Eagles captain Abduljeleel Ajagun can be given opportunities to prove themselves.

    In the attack, a fit Emenike is significantly vital if Nigeria must return to Brazil next year. During the glory days in the 1990s, most of our super stars came through the youth system. Nigeria is currently enjoying a period where our youth system is not doing badly at all. A player like Macaulay Chrisantus from the victorious Golden Eaglets of 2007 can also be an imposing striker for the Super Eagles. I watch him play regularly for las palmas in the Spanish segunda where he scored 12 goals this past season. Victor Anichebe can also provide some depth. Oduamadi reminds me of the great Nwankwo Kanu with his silky displays and finesse in front of goal, while Musa, Ideye and maybe some other upcoming talents like Olanrewaju Kayode can present a fierce competition for shirts.

    Defensively, we need captain Yobo in this team like I've said before even if it's only for inspiration and encouragement just like he (Keshi) did in 1994. Yobo can still fill the void especially when Ambrose struggles at times as he is not a traditional right back. Omeruo is definitely the future he reminds me of the great Franco Baresi. Oboabona and Elderson have also been fantastic they just need to work more on their concentration. They must realize that football is played for 90 minutes or 120 minutes and beyond if necessary.


    Above all, I think the world will see a different Super Eagles in Brazil next year if Nigeria qualify.

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  3. Nigerian Football team has finest players in the world - http://www.ngr24.com/

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