Saturday, 29 June 2013

Confederations Cup 2013: We came, we saw; have we learnt?

For the Super Eagles, the 2013 Confederations Cup has come and gone.
The consensus is that “the Eagles performed very well”, but I beg to disagree.

In recent years, the team has not had major issues in the goalkeeping department. This did not change during the confederations Cup as Vincent Enyeama rose gallantly to the occasion. The scores in the games against Uruguay and especially Spain remained respectable largely because of Enyeama.

Credit should be given to the defense for having found some level of stability. This is a function of Coach Keshi’s consistent reliance on a select few in this department. The first choice centre back pair of young Kenneth Omeruo and homebased Godfrey Oboabona has been strongly supported by the coming of age of Uwa Echiejile.
But the cast is not yet solid. Group whipping boys, Tahiti managed to get their only goal of the tournament against Nigeria. Right-back Efe Ambrose offered more going forward than staying back and consequently, Uruguay still carved out openings and put two behind the Eagles despite an impressive man-marking job on the wasteful Edison Cavani and Luis Suarez. Oboabona and Agwuekwe’s obvious inexperience was all the more exposed by the ease at which Spain kept getting in behind them.

For once in a very long time, the Eagles’ midfield was a beauty to behold, but only just. John Mikel Obi showed he is world class but then, his midfield dominance was not enough to propel the team to the next stage. After so much criticism, Fengor Ogude vindicated me by proving himself a man for the big occasion. Sunday Mba and John Ogu either came on or came off in the games they played. Quality is still lacking offensively.

The story of the Eagles’ sojourn in Brazil was the impotency of the team’s attacking line. Nnamdi Oduamadi was a revelation (I have been clamouring for his full integration for ages now) while Ahmed Musa – in all his speed and skill – is still immature for the Eagles’ first team.
The fact that some strikers are purely club strikers was underlined at this tournament. From Brown Ideye, Anthony Ujah and Joseph Akpala to Gambo Mohammed, the strikers were all a colossal disappointment.

The bench
From the competition, it is obvious that Coach Stephen Keshi is progressively building a well-motivated team of hardworking and confident lads. The performance of the team was encouraging on the grounds of effort expended, but the right attitude alone does not win tournaments. The general consensus is that the team lost out due to the absence of proven goal scorers. This points to one man as wholly responsible for the failure. Stephen Keshi.

First, his poor and sentimental selection of players resulted in yet another “experimental” squad spearheaded by a toothless attacking line which could not score a single goal when it really mattered. The absence of Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike obviously depleted the team offensively, but Keshi failed to pick the best replacements. Ikechukwu Uche, Obinna Nsofor, Obafemi Martins, Osaze Odemwingie and even Ekigho Ehiosun are all proven and experienced goal scorers in the national colours.

And while a huge vacuum remains in the creative attacking midfield position, talented and experienced players like Lukman Haruna and Emmanuel Ekpo were also excluded. More so, the coach even refused to replace Ogenyi Onazi after he got injured before the tournament.

Second, the inflexibility in and even lack of tactics saw a very predictable team playing the same ineffective pattern in every game. A good coach must have a wide range of tactics at his disposal. In contrast, Keshi’s team was just played out its heart in one pattern less dimension and waited for luck – which never came – as Sunday Mba failed to score when they played against Spain on a Sunday (like he did during the AFCON).

Third, the Confederations Cup was not supposed to be a continuation of Keshi’s rebuilding process because rebuilding is not done during a major tournament. The competition was supposed to ASSESS the progress so far made, against some of the best teams across the world. All the talk about how well the team played is a merely consolatory; the reality is that it was eliminated in the first round! This, in football terms, is failure.

Nigeria failed in Brazil simply because of the coach’s attempt at rebuilding the Super Eagles by egoistically ‘discovering his own players’ purely for personal reasons, and this is to the detriment of the country as he deprived the team of the services of its best players. This gamble only worked during the Nations Cup because the other top African countries are presently not at their peak (when they were, Nigeria never got past the semifinals).

Moving Forward…
If this team is to stage a return to Brazil next year for the World Cup and make any meaningful impact there, Coach Stephen Keshi will have to do the right thing, starting now.
·        He will have to select and effectively utilize the best players’ talent to optimize his team’s performance. I would suggest that he be made to defend his team selections (man-for-man) in a public press conference.
·        He will have to learn to choose and switch tactics before and during matches as it is often so evident during matches that he is bereft of ideas.
·        Injuries and suspensions are part of the game, he should be able to conjure up alternatives to cushion the absence of key players, rather than make excuses.
·        He will have to be a father to all by effectively managing the egos and misbehaviour of important players (rather than fight them like Siasia did) and bring out the best in them.
·        He should not stick with mediocre players just because he can control them.
·        He should learn to seek counsel where and when necessary.

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