Wednesday 30 October 2019

/ by Colin Udoh

THREE FOR THE WIN! Hattrick hero Ibrahim Sai'd shows how many goals he scored

Hattrick hero Ibrahim Sai’d willl claim the lion share of the plaudits, but it was another gutsy, unyielding team performance that carried Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets over the line as they came from behind to stun Ecuador 3-2 and advance to the 2019 FIFA Under 17 World Cup quarterfinals.

Sai’d pounced on a goalkeeping error from Lopez to open the scoring after just five minutes. That was also how much time it took Ecuador to draw level, Mejia’s shot helped in off goalkeeper Daniel Jinadu’s back.

Mina despatched a dodgy penalty to put Ecuador in front nine minutes into the second half before the Golden Eaglets blitzed the last 10 minutes to claim a stupendous win and book their place in the knockout phase.

We have a few takeaways from the win

It has been a wee while since Nigerians have seen a team so determined not to lay down and die.
For the second game in a row, the Eaglets came back from 2-1 down to win. As good as the scoreline was, what was even more remarkable was the spirit they showed.
Whether ahead or behind, the team played with guts and with fire in their bellies. They were simply determined not to lose. Not against Hungary on opening day, not against Ecuador on the night. And both teams looked both tactically and technically superior.
But the Nigerians showed more heart, more spirit and certainly more lungs. Even at the end, they were still swarming all over Ecuador and were it not for poor finishing, they would surely have run up the score.

Nigerians have been weaned on attacking football. The great Green Eagles team which won the Africa Cup of Nations were loaded with attacking talent and played with expansive verve.
The 1994 team wrote themselves into folklore in much the same way. And the best of Nigeria’s cadet teams - including all previous five Under 17 championship winning teams - all played in much the same way.
This side are not nearly as talented as their predecessors, and there are quite a few holes to be picked in their game, but they do a good job of covering these holes with their unrelenting forward blitz.
The good news is they create a boatload of chances. The bad news is they need barn doors in front of them.
Akinwunmi Amos is a wrecking ball, captain Samson Tijani is a offensive controller and Said just showed how lethal he can be from range. Not to mention Wisdom Ubani and his set piece expertise.
There will be goals with this team, the trouble is. . .

There are weaknesses all over the team, and it starts well before the ball gets to defense. Against Ecuador, as in against Hungary, the biggest problem was before the ball got to defense. 
Players, especially in midfield, were in some sort of mad hurry to play balls. And for all of Garba’s emphasis on passing football, sometimes, players’ decision to go alone turned out ill-advised. All of this led to more than their fair share of turnovers. 
But the worst part was the after. Manu Garba needs to drill some basic idea of timing into his players until it becomes muscle memory. The amount of seemingly aimless running and mistimed tackles were simply insane.
It led to goals against Hungary and again against Ecuador.
A more tactically disciplined side would leather these lads if allowed such freedom of the shop.
Hopefully, they plug the holes sooner rather than later.

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