Friday, 16 November 2012

Venezuela 1 – 3 Nigeria: The morning after

The victory over Venezuela in the newly opened Marlin Park, Miami was a morale-boosting way to kick-start preparations for the next Nations Cup in South Africa in January. It is important to mention that the score line does not truly reflect the performance of the teams.
Before their sudden resurrection which resulted in two goals within ten minutes of the restart, the Eagles would have gone into the break with at least a 3-goal deficit if their opponents were able to convert their first half dominance and chances into goals. 
But then, kudos must go to Coach Keshi and his crew; whatever it is that was said or done to the players during the halftime interval worked.

Over the years, I have been very critical of Austin Ejide's abilities due to his lack of confidence and poor decision making. After watching his last game for the Eagles prior to this, I commented that he had improved commendably, but that he needed to be re-assessed to ascertain it wasn't a fluke. In Miami, he was simply a joy to behold and thoroughly erased any doubts about his competence.

Uwa Echiejile held his own at left-back, sometimes even venturing to cover for the fumbling centre backs in a performance that may very well have displaced Taye Taiwo.

Ogenyi Onazi was everywhere on the pitch marking and breaking up the Venezuelans' build up, but I fear the exuberance with which he goes about his duties, marks him out as a potential candidate for bookings in competition situation. Other than this and the fact that his decision making was poor at times, he showed potential that portend a future in the team - as did debutants Bright Dike and Solomon Kwambe.

Nosa Igiebor finally showed a bit of what inspired my continuous clamour for his invitation to the team. Beyond his stunning strike, I think he has the drive and aggression that has been lacking in the midfield. It was good to see Raheem Lawal return for injured Henry Uche to help Nosa Igiebor to concentrate on offensive duties.

Brown Ideye finally broke his scoring jinx in the Eagles, tapping in the opener, but posting an even better all-round attacking display and promise. Shola Amoebi too did not disappoint as he brought his influence and experience to bear expertly late on in the game, holding up play like the veteran he is, and even setting up the third goal.

On the downside, Obafemi Martins had a poor day at the office, and even he knows that he will need to do better. But as a proven scorer on the big occasion, it would be foolish to write him off just yet.

The Azubuike Agwueke-Godfrey Oboabona manned central defense was quite literally a nightmare - dreadfully porous from lack of speed, technique and experience. We can only but imagine how this pair would struggle with the impending pace, trickery and aggression of strikers during the Nations' cup.
Solomon Kwambe's impressive attacking display was noteworthy; but so also was the yawning gap he left in the backline at times (which further compounded the woes of the centre-backs).

Then there was the lack of cohesion, quite understandable for a team in transition where some players were meeting for the first time, but not entirely excusable.

Despite an impressive display on the second half of the game by the Eagles, Juan Arango, the Venezualan captain still had a way of single-handedly dictating proceedings in the middle and carving out openings in our defense. Consequently, we still need an experienced "heavyweight" destroyer to provide more shield for our insecure back line. We also need players who can dictate the pace of the game, just as we need further incision and penetration, from the midfield. 

Many people believe Mikel Obi will plug these holes, but I'd like to point out that the prospect of coming up against the likes of Yaya Toure, Didier Zokora, and Michael Essien presents a different proposition at the nation's cup - more so, when he will not have players like Ramires, Mata and Hazard to put them on the backfoot. It is for this reason I continue to call for the invitation of Fengor Ogude and Lukman Haruna.

Upfront, the unfortunate reality is that only one name rings a bell when it comes to goal scoring - Ikechukwu Uche. This should not be the case if we must do well in South Africa. While this was only a test game, we should realize that the defenses at the Nation's will surely be a lot tighter than any we have played against so far. I dare to repeat again here that the team needs experienced strikers who will deliver when the stakes are high, not necessarily strikers who are scoring for their clubs.

The team is still quite some distance from the finished product, but it has to be said that so far, it’s been impressive.

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