Monday 3 June 2019

/ by Colin Udoh

Nigeria's Muhamed Tijani goes up against Ukraine's Danylo Beskorovainyi

It may already be too late for the Flying Eagles, but if they have any intentions of going through to the quarterfinals of the 2019 FIFA Under 20 World Cup, they will have to get past fellow Africans Senegal.

The Senegalese were the best performing African side of the tournament, finishing their group phase campaign as group winners with two wins and one draw without conceding a single goal after scoring five.

Nigeria, on the other hand, scored the same number of goals as the Senegalese, but let in three. More importantly, they lost their second game to the USA and barely managed to scrape through to the knockout phase by the skin of their teeth.

Their play was as uninspiring as it was lethargic and going intoMonday’s round of 16 fixture, there are a number of things that Paul Aigbogun needs to fix

Right from their very first game against Qatar, it was clear that the Flying Eagles looked like anything but a team. Their play was disjointed, their team work was virtually non existent and a team with so little talent like Qatar were opening them up at will.
It did not bode well for the future. Game 2 quickly proved it.
The USA ran rings around the Nigerians, passing the ball around them, switching play at will and getting behind almost for sun. It was embarrassing to watch. Not until the introduction of Aniekeme Ikon did the Nigerians look anywhere near a decent collection of football players. The same scenario played out against Ukraine in their final group game, to a lesser extent.
What Aigbogun needs to get his wards to do is play for each other. Football is a team game. There were too many instances of players wanting to go it all alone when it was easier and more efficient to pass to a team mate. Aigbogun needs to get them to find each other more often, avoid running into cul de sacs, encourage the forwards to make runs that create openings and the midfielders and defenders to find them when they make those runs. Basic stuff, but needs to be said.

Hopefully, they would have learnt from their debacle against the USA about the dangers of rushing at opponents and leaving wide open spaces at the back.
The team’s play is built on marauding fullbacks, but unless those fullbacks get cover when they bomb forward, they will need to stay home.
Senegal have shown that they can score goals, and the fact that their defence has let in a grand total of zero goals speaks for itself. Even at the African championship, the Senegalese only allowed two goals in their entire tournament play, scoring 11.
Going all gung ho might not be the way for Aigbogun and his players to go. They need to be smart, tactical and do the basics well (see above).

So far, Aigbogun’s tactical nous has come under criticism back home. It is time for him to prove his critics wrong not only by fashioning out the right tactics to start he game, but by making the in-game adjustments necessary to help his players win.
To start with, his high press has been shown up by the USA. Simply because his players did not press as a unit and ended up running around the pitch with neither plan nor purpose. If they must press, they should do so low and tight and hit with pace on the break. 
Defence wins championships. This game might be decided on the odd goal, or even on penalty kicks, but the Nigerians have to make sure they are the ones left standing when the dust settles at the end.

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