Tuesday 28 May 2019

/ by Colin Udoh

Heading in vain. Valentine Ozornwafor's best efforts were not enough to stop Sebastian Soto/FIFA

Even as the Flying Eagles routed Qatar 4-0, the warning signs were clear and ominously present. The inexperienced Qatari moved better, passed the ball better, exploited openings better and carved the Nigerians open with ease that was at times embarrassing.
Their only drawback was the lack of efficiency in front of goal. It was clear that the Flying Eagles style would not survive much sterner scrutiny.
And the USA duly proved it on Monday. Here are three takeaways from the game.

One of the most important things a coach does going into a game is prepare for the opposition by scouting them to the minutiae. Especially for a tournament where the draws had been made in advance.
Failing that however, the next best thing is to use the opening five to 10 minutes to assess the opposition, how they defend, how they attack and what weaknesses there are to exploit.
The USA played soon after Nigeria’s game against Qatar. Paul Aigbogun and his team had plenty of time to study them. They obviously did not.
Ukraine’s tactics were to sit in a low block and exploit spaces left by the USA when they poured forward. It worked. Aigbogun chose to start with a high press, which left yawning gaps all over the field. It was a gift the Americans were only too glad to accept as they calmly played their way out of trouble, and then pinned the Nigerians to their half, putting particular pressure on the fullbacks who had been the major attacking outlets against Qatar.
Aigbogun failed to react, failed to shut down the spaces as his team attempted to go on a passing toe to toe against a side as well-drilled as the US. The failure was spectacular. At one point during the first half, possession was 66% to the US.
In fairness to the Flying Eagles coach he made an adjustment within half an hour, hooking Tom Dele-Bashiru after a shocking error-strewn play. The Manchester City youngster was hooked for Aniekeme Okon, who brought energy and stability into the midfield.
At least we can’t say Aigbogun doesn’t know when to make a change.

Aigbogun may have been quick to react, but he was also hampered by the tools he had. His players lack of basics was painfully accentuated by the technical ability and near-scripted execution of USA. 
They passed with crisp fitness, moved economically, exploited space and switched play almost telepathically. Their choreography left the Nigerians running around chasing their own tails.
When they did get possession, their touches were so heavy they could barely string three passes together before turning the ball over. Individual breakdowns littered the pitch.
Players appeared determined to forget that football is a team game, preferring to run into two or three-man cul de sacs when it was easier and more effective to pass their way out of trouble. 
The second goal was of such embarrassing simplicity it cold only be compared to a chess player falling for Scholar’s mate, an elementary checkmate in four moves. Four US players were involved, starting with the goalkeeper as they ran the length of the pitch without a single Nigerian player tracking within yards!
Thursday is not so far away, but Aigbogun needs to sort these out. Fast.

For all the hysterics that attended the game - and yes, said hysterics were justified - it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
There were a still positives to glean from the defeat. For one, the players did not roll over. Once the coach made the small but significant tweak of bringing on Okon, the midfield stabilised, Kingsley Michael became more influential and the Flying Eagles gradually wrested control. Oh, and they started passing the ball too! Shocker!
This proves that this team can ball, if they set their mind to it and have the right tactics and selection.
Success Makanjuola surely must have done enough over two games to have eared himself a starters shirt over Okechukwu Offia. And impressive as Tom Dele-Bashiru was in the first game, Aniekeme Okon’s energy, passing and vocal authority may just have nicked him a shirt for the next game 
Beyond personnel, Aigbogun needs to lay down the law on at least two things. First, players must stay tight and tackle to win and keep the ball. Two, they must look to release the ball as quickly as possible keep passes over 10 feet to the barest minimum. In other works, play as a friggin team!
Not a bunch of Messi-photocopies from a decommissioned copier

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  1. I think Nigerian coaches typically feel obligated to attack no matter what because (1) they feel Nigerians expect it of them & (2) the history of past successful under age teams.
    More importantly Colin, you cannot give what you don't have. All your listed points have characterised the team from the off but little if anything has changed.
    That's why I dont expect significant fundamental changes in their basics, tactical awareness and performances against teams established in key rudiments. IMO the coach is limited & tactically I long foresaw a monumental crash.


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