It was a very resounding victory against a formidable Argentine team and there were some very good highpoints and as expected some critical low points noticed in the game. At this point if you’re expecting to whole-heartedly read a prediction such as “Nigeria for finals in Russia 2018”, kindly stop at this point.
Aha! I see you have made it to this stage. So let’s critically dissect Nigeria’s performance yesterday. Firstly, I must praise the boys for coming back in the second half so resoundingly but let’s not repeat that first half performance ever again. Nigeria can be forgiven because that was the first time (half) competitively trying out a 3-5-2 formation.
We could have easily been blown away at the 40th minute mark by being four goals down. I have read in some quarters as to what may have contributed to Balogun’s unexpectedly shaky performance against Argentina. Truth be told Balogun is not the fastest and in a 3-man defense, he should have been deployed in the middle. This was a position Rohr handed to William Troost-Ekong.
Now to Ekong, for all of his wonderful defending there’s little joy to derive from his ball passing abilities. He gave out a couple of erroneous passes that would have been resoundingly punished by a German or Spanish team.
Ekong should have manned the right side of the defense, a position manned by Awaziem. If Ekong can’t pass comfortably with his stronger right foot, imagine what would happen if he’s told to man the left side where he’d receive the ball more on his weaker leg foot.
We all saw how many times Balogun was pressured and rather than face the throw line, he constantly faced our goal while adjusting to clear/pass with his preferred right foot.
Now to Awaziem, that boy is very confident and fearless player and passed comfortably with both feet. As a result I would opine that he be deployed on the left wing back role moving forward.
I don’t think Shehu has a loyal fan as much as yours sincerely; however, he had a below par performance in that new formation. He defended well, but in order to justify why it is called a left wing-back role, you also have to attack as well as defend.
That was where he had the problem. Whenever, he pushed he wasn’t protect and there were a lot of true passes coming through his wings (it was a disaster on Aina’s wing – I’d get to that soon). I’d attribute this to our poor passing game in the first half which exposed our fullbacks as we lost the ball carelessly.
This put Shehu under a lot of defensive recovery procedures all of the first half. Oh Aina! Aina!! Aina!!! He was thoroughly exposed in that game. But, I have seen him play that for Hull City and Chelsea to great effect. The Argentine through passes (ground and up) all made it to Pazon.
All in all I’d attribute the flaws of the defense and also the team as a whole to the fact that it was their first time playing that formation.
Now comes the good part. What a second half blitz Nigeria had, it was glorious to watch. Iwobi’s one-two game was top notch, Iheanacho drifting wide worked to great effect.
In the second half I dare say Nigeria didn’t play with any forwards as they all drifted wide – I specifically call this the “triple-false nine”. Any of Iwobi, Iheanacho or Mikel randomly popped up in the Argentine box.
It was a sight to behold. Now to the substitutes, Ebuehi had a wonderful game, he was what Shehu had hoped to be in that rather forgettable first half. He timed his attacking/defending to perfection yesterday.
He was always an available outlet when we attacked. Although, Idowu scored a goal he was not more of a consistent attacking threat as Ebuehi. He was very cautious and defended more. Due to these reasons I think Rohr may give Aina another chance in the LWB position.
Overall, the passing in the midfield improved in the second half and that rubbed off positively on the fullbacks as they didn’t have to worry much about unexpected defensive recoveries due to bad give-aways. It’s best I don’t talk about the goalkeeping department – I assume we can make comprehensive judgements. No need flogging a dead horse!
I fear for the regulars that missed this game like Ighalo and Echejile. The former may still force his way but I fear for the latter as he now has serious competition in either a 4-3-3, 4-5-1, or 3-5-2 formation (he can forget about being considered in a 3-5-2 formation). While I fear for the other two, I have no fears for Onazi and Moses.
Onazi would walk back into Ogu’s role. For Moses it depends on what Rohr wants to achieve. Moses would always play for Nigeria. Rohr may sacrifice Iheanacho from the line-up and put Moses in that right sided false-9 position. Or he could deploy as he’s currently deployed for his club.
He and Ebuehi are both double footed and could play either left wing back or right wing back positions. But I doubt Rohr may confine his most lethal player in a wing back position, hence, Iheanacho may be sacrificed for Moses.
It would not be good for Rohr to permanently jettison our existing 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formations. There may be times we could be stifled in a 3-5-2 formation, reverting back to our old system may be the solutions.
With all of the praises going out to the players, I have not seen anyone mention the perfect playing surface of the pitch against Argentina in Krasnodar. That surface really helped our game. For all of the hullabaloos made about the Uyo pitch, it’s never been the smoothest of playing surfaces.
The last time Nigeria played a home game on a smooth surface was versus Tunisia in 2009 in Abuja and that’s attributed to the fact that Nigeria was preparing to host the 2009 under-17 world cup. Little details like smooth playing surfaces are taken for granted in Sub-Saharan Africa. It would be nice if the government prioritize stadium maintenance in Nigeria.
Finally, we are not yet there but we are getting there. I can dream and hope for Nigeria bettering their previous achievement of a second round finish. If and when we cross that huddle, anything could happen from there. I would keep the Eagles in my prayers come December 1, 2017 so as to get a favorable group draw as these are the little details that could determine how far we’d go.
Guest post written by Daffy ( @Sport_People_Ta)