And so, against all expectations, the Super Eagles failed to beat Iran in their opening game to continue a winless run in the World Cup since 1998. The game ended in a stalemate, which felt like a loss to Nigerians – a now familiar outcome against non-African opposition under the team’s current leadership – all but confirming fears that this will most probably be another poor World Cup outing.
The result was hardly surprising after Coach Stephen Keshi was reported to have admitted that he knows nothing about the Iranians, going into the World Cup; a comment which, if true, epitomizes irresponsibility and incompetence.
Despite the determination and effort by the Nigerian players in a very lively game with end-to-end action, it was again a case of all effort, no end product. The Eagles’ performance was still as tactless as it was uninventive.
As usual, Vincent Enyeama was rock solid. The defence was a lot more commanding than in recent times owing, of course, to the lack of quality in the Iranian attacking line.
The midfield failed to assert itself offensively as it struggled to break down the very organized Iranian set-up due the lack of creative incision that has remained unaddressed prior to the World Cup. The Iranians’ skill and aggression pummelled the Mikel Obi-led engine room into faulty passing and concession of possession, exposing it defensively on a number of occasions.
The attack was as wastefulness as ever with the few chances it could muster. Many blame this on a cagey and defensive game plan by the Iranians, but this is not an excuse because the game is about tactics! The Iranians executed a game plan obvious to the entire viewership, while the Eagles’ coaching crew once again proved its tactical incompetence by FAILING to conjure up any visible strategy to neutralize that of the opposition. For instance, Algeria played a similar game pattern against Belgium, but the Belgians still managed to overcome the North Africans purely on tactical grounds.
Tagging the team “slow starters” who will gradually peak as the tournament progresses is only solace. To make it out of the group stage, the team now has an ominous task of over-coming a resolute Bosnian team, not to mention a very shrewd Argentine side. It is not like these teams are unbeatable, but it is difficult to see how the Eagles will pull off this feat, playing like it has been.
My greater fear is borne of the fact Coach Stephen Keshi realistically, does not paint a picture of a man who knows how to go about it. Excerpts of his post-match comments clearly affirm this. And so it is continually looking like progression for the Eagles will once again boil down to luck, not ability.