And so finally the Super Eagles kicked off its campaign at the Nations Cup by drawing the Stallions of Burkina Faso.
Vincent Enyeama was almost on holiday in the first half but had a good outing tainted only by late goal. Efe Ambrose continued where he left off against Cape Verde, with another very nervous and unconvincing outing at right back, struggling in the second half when the Burkinabes turned on the heat to earn a red card.
Uwa Echiejile's lack of finesse and panache saw him labour to overcome opposing attackers even in situations where he had the upper hand. For the most experienced player on the Nigerian side, Yobo was simply a shuddering bunch of nerves; a very pale shadow of the leader he is supposed to be. Oboabona impressed, but still falls short of the expected level on the international stage. Omeruo settled fast after initial nerves on a brand new terrain, but the future looks very bright.
The midfield fared very well in the first half because Burkina Faso failed to come to the party in the middle of the pack. Fengor Ogude did the dirty work to near perfection, though he was too rough at times. Mikel was, as expected, the most effective creative force in midfield though his influence waned in the second half after Ogude's exit and when the Stallions reinforced their midfield. Igiebor impressed though he lost possession a little too easily. Onazi was very workaholic as usual, but not as influential as Ogude whom he replaced.
The attack also suffered what most other teams in the competition are suffering - a poor goal-conversion rate. Musa caused the opponents problems with his speed, but seemed bereft of ideas in the opponent's area. Emenike was a tough nut for the opposing defense and got a (difficult) goal for his efforts while Ideye only needs to polish up his finishing. Both players however buttressed my point about selecting strikers based on club form as against productivity in national colours. Ike Uche has only himself to blame for failing to put away chances he routinely converts because he put himself under unnecessary pressure.
The performance of the Eagles against Burkina Faso revealed a lot about the Eagles in this tournament. First, it was further proof of the harsh reality that Keshi lacks the requisite tactical expertise. This was evident in his selections and even more so in his input – or lack thereof – during the game.
Despite Efe Ambrose's blunders at right back against Cape Verde, Keshi started him in the same position.On either side of scoring the only goal, Emmanuel Emenike had a field day tormenting the Burkinabes at will; yet Keshi substituted him ahead of the misfiring Brown Ideye when a potential Ike Uche-Emenike would perhaps have been more dangerous.
Keshi should have resorted to a compact 4-4-1 after the red card, thereafter urging his boys to keep possession in the dying minutes rather than kicking the ball aimlessly into the opponent area in the name of fruitless counter-attacks which resulted in the late equalizer.
The game also brought to light the players' true individual and collective abilities in competition situation. The fact is that the current team is very average at best was explicitly expressed in their lack of confidence, technical discipline and character. Tactical naivety was also responsible for the two points dropped. From poor passing to poor movement off-the-ball, the players eventually totally forgot the basic antics of running the clock to frustrate opponents at the closing stages of a game.
Yes, they played with their hearts, but determination alone does not win games and competitions. Yes, it is a team in transition - whose fault?
The Germans say, "The attack wins you games, the defense wins you tournaments"; not a defense as shaky and uncoordinated as the one that faced Burkina Faso.
It also revealed the dependency on individuals as against collective strength. Flashes of the "pre-Chelsea" Mikel due to a more advanced role meant he was the orchestrator of nearly all the Eagles's attacking moves. Consequently, every reasonable coach now knows that one of the ways to stop the Eagles is to close down Mikel Obi.
What hope against the Cheikh Tiotes, Yaya Toures and Didier Zokoras? What becomes the fate of the backline now that Joseph Yobo and Efe Ambrose who are supposed to be its backbone are more of liabilities?
For the upcoming games, it is hoped the team and its handlers will go back to the drawing board and fashion out a winning formular because there are very tough days ahead. With the poor choice of players he took to South Africa, it is difficult to offer suggestions on what can be done about the defense, but I suppose a traditional 4-4-2 formation will do the team more good against the Zambians.
Except something drastic happens, I do not see how this team will overcome Ivory Coast, Algeria and even Togo, assuming it makes it to the next stage. It is football so anything is possible; but it will be extremely difficult.