Fresh from qualifying for the World cup and of course the conquest of Africa, the Super Eagles took on the Italian National team in a prestigious friendly encounter in less than 48 hours. I had my reservations about the timing of the game, but on the strength of the performance of the team after a six hour flight the previous day, it was a good performance. I know all outlets of Social media will be buzzing now on the fantastic performance of the Super Eagles and of course the game in general, but you are only as good as the opposition in front of you, its what you do with the chance or opportunity that matters and its safe to say the Eagles flew and flew well in London.
Be that as it may, it is not yet aura, this continues to be a work in progress. On the basis of this; five major talking points caught my attention and need to be addressed for the Eagles to soar even higher in Brazil next year.
The Super Eagles are too Direct
For the love of me, the play is too direct making it extremely predictable, once there are three exchanges of passing in the midfield area, we look to launch it forward for the likes of Emenike, due to his physical presence and Musa due to his pace; tonight Nigeria played a total of 65 long balls with a pass completion rate of 80% (stats courtesy whoscored.com). A tactically astute team just needs to hold its defensive shape well, plucking the balls from the air with relative ease, in some instances a team can hold a high line and keep catching the forwards off side, hence making the attacker frustrated and completely isolated. Nigeria played some good stuff, when the play transcended from defense to attack with great passing tempo and good runs on and off the ball. Truth is there’s a lot of pace in this team, once used to good effect many teams would not be able to cope with it; the two goals scored tonight were as a result of great, neat passing and movement in the wide areas; the Super Eagles need more of this and not the kick and follow approach.
Pirlo’s introduction showed Nigeria what it was missing
At 2-2; Cesar Prandelli made a treble substitution to introduce Andrea Pirlo, Parolo and Diamanti; this is pure class coming off the bench especially with the maestro; Andrea Pirlo. His introduction gave the Italians another edge, a new dimension to their play. He came on and started orchestrating, darting passes of all kinds of ranges, finding spaces behind the Nigerian defense that did not seem to exist before his introduction. Since the retirement of Jay Jay Okocha from Football, the Super Eagles have lacked that individual, that invention, that eye for the killer pass, that can control things from midfield, dictate play and take the game by the scruff of the neck. Nigeria needs its own Pirlo.
Nigeria now need to become difficult to beat
In the continually evolving world of football tactics, many variations, hybrids of formations have come up, the purpose for this is to ensure that a team becomes difficult to beat. Forget the individual players at its disposal or the number of attacking players they may have, over the years it has become imperative that a team has to first be difficult to beat; hence the evolution of the 4-4-2 to 4-4-1-1 and 4-1-4-1 or the 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 and so on and so forth. In certain games, Nigeria needs to do away with its free spirited 4-2-4 or 4-3-3 in some instances and work on a base to ensure the team is difficult to break down. Many at times, the team was played out of shape as the Italians moved the ball around. Keshi needs to instill that tactical discipline that ensures the team is compact, resolute, tactically aware and difficult to breakdown or pull apart.
Do not get me wrong, you can play good football, you can play great attacking football and still be difficult to beat; it is that tactically discipline, that attention to detail, when on or off the ball, the awareness of all and what is going on around you that makes a team difficult to beat.
The Defense needs Protection
I have to first commend Azubuike Egwuekwe, he has improved in leaps and bounds and is gradually building an understanding with Oboabona; also the game showed Nigerians that options at the full back positions are readily available; Francis Benjamin had a good game; but sincerely speaking, the defense needs some protection. The coaching crew need to identify the man for the dirty and mopping up work in front of the defense between Onazi and Mikel Obi. Most times, when Nigeria attacks there’s always a huge hole behind especially with the fact that the full backs join in on the offensive. I think Onazi has the presence of mind, awareness and tactical discipline to sit just in front of the back four providing the protection it needs.
Nigeria is on to something
Many never gave the Super Eagles a chance, me included, with the way this team is going, the right mix and blend; Nigeria is truly on to something. Keshi must be commended for building a team the nation can be proud of again under harsh and difficult circumstances. To get to that level, the team needs more games like this; Spain, England, Uruguay, Brazil, Holland etc can be courted for friendly games, I am sure they won’t turn down a chance to take on the African Champions.
Halftimeng.com verdict : A big 7 over 10 for the Super Eagles