Tuesday 18 June 2019

/ by Colin Udoh

Onome Ebi arrives to defend

Wendy Renard converted a penalty on the second try to hand France a slim and hard-fought 1-0 victory on Monday in Rennes.
First VAR ruled correctly that Ngozi Ebere had clattered into Vivianne Asseyi and the penalty kick was awarded. But after Renard saw her shot skim off the left upright and away to safety, VAR ruled that Nigeria goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie had one foot marginally off the line and a retake was ordered. The French defender made no mistake at the second time of asking.
The result means Nigeria, who could have qualified with a result, will now have to depend on other results going their way to advance to the knockout phase.
Beyond the result however, there was noticeable improvement in the both the team’s tactics and in many aspects of their execution.
Time to unpack

There were ominous signs after the last game when Thomas Dennerby claimed in his post match reaction that his players made no mistakes. This, after a game that was riddled with errors despite the win.
So it came as something of a relief that the coach named a starting lineup with one tweak that attempted to address those issues, with the conservative Halimatu Ayinde starting in place of the more offensive Chinaza Uchendu.
It worked, as there was more stability early on in midfield, the team kept he ball a bit better than their past two games and looked much more disciplined in closing down players and blocking off passing lanes.
They still gave the ball away way too often, with the commentator remarking that they turned the ball over 47 times in the opening 26 minutes!
Veteran midfielder Rita Chikwelu was the most guilty party, continually attempting long balls and Hollywood passes when simple balls would have been better. B ut many of the other players dod not help either, with leaden touches allowing the ball to get away from them time after time.
The fact that forward Asisat Oshoala looked slightly off colour did not help matters. It appeared she had hamstring issues and struggled to either keep hold o the ball or turn on her trademark afterburners.
In defence, Onome Ebi was at the heart of an immensely heroic performance from the back four and teenage goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie provided proof not just of a bright future, but a glowing present.
It was a tactically strong performance overall and must be considered a shame that the ladies did not come away with the point their performance deserved.

As mentioned above, for all of his public protestations of his players not putting a foot wrong in their last game, Dennerby saw the problem and tried to fix it, first with personnel and then the player shape and decision-making.
The decision to put Desire Oparanozie on Renard at bought ends of the pitch, restricted the French defenders’s contribution. And playing narrow forced them to work harder than they expected to funnel their attacks centrally.
However, Dennerby’s slip was in not recognizing when to make two key substitutions. Oshoala finally pulled up with what looked like hamstring trouble. It was clear almost from the beginning that she was struggling g with it but Dennerby kept her on till late when she should have gone off well under the hour. Half time, if possible.
In midfield, Chikwelu’s turnovers were killing the team and a replacement was needed to stabilize things. By the end of the game, the Falcons were pinned in their half because there was no outlet.
It is understandable that with one player short, the Swede would want to take as much time as possible before deploying his personnel, but taking all that pressure from a broken down midfield was bound to lead to trouble. Eventually, it did. Ngozi Ebere giving away a penalty kick and getting a second yellow card.

Thomas Dennerby whistles for attention

If Nigeria do get through, they will be without Chikwelu after the midfielder picked up a booking late in the game.
While losing such an experienced player would be a big loss, especially in the knockout phase of the competition, her passing completion stats and the number of times plays break down at her feet has led Twitter user @charlesntima to suggest that the loss could just be a blessing in disguise.
Chikwelu is an experienced campaigner, and that disguised blessing might two-pronged. The first being that her replacement might do a better job of bringing stability like Ayinde did. Or that watching from the stands might give her a better appreciation of what she is doing wrong which would help down the line.

@niyiomotayo comment on the re-taken penalty was one of my selections of the lot and here goes
“Little details matter. Whoever is responsible for goalkeeping coaching probably regrets not relaying (clearly) the new rules to Nnadozie. Perhaps the responsible person isn’t aware him(her)self. Who ensures this among the coaching staff? Change management”

Good point Niyi. Knowing that these rule changes would go into effect on June 1, the players should not just have been made aware of the changes (they were) but also made to practice it during their friendlies and scrimmages.
The USA did exactly that, making the new rules applicable in their friendlies building up to the World Cup.

The Super Falcons can’t merely rely on counter attack. They need better ball control and first touches. They need to be more strategic when winning th eball on 50/50 chances and play into space

It looks like the areas that need improvement are not areas that can be fixed in a few days, with just a handful of training sessions. That’s the deeper problem. Perhaps, the short-term solution might be to tailor the tactics to the specific opponent we meet

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