Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Nigeria 1 – 0 Bosnia: What significance for the Eagles?

After 16 years, the Super Eagles finally won a World Cup game. In contrast to the colourless display against the cagey Iranians, the Eagles were a much better sight to behold in a lone goal victory – but only just – in a match that showed pointers to the need for improvement.

Another Lucky victory
It is important that while there is a huge likelihood of a second round berth, we should not be oblivious of the fact that the Eagles were somewhat lucky on the night. Bosnia displayed but unfortunately failed to utilize some of the most precise passing movement and transitional play the current World Cup has seen. The Bosnian defense, on the contrary, only had aerial presence, but was extremely languid – yet the Eagles could only manage a single goal.

The Bosnians were nothing close to the lethal form they showed in qualification although, amongst numerous other flunked chances, Edin Dzeko had a legitimate goal wrongly disallowed while also hitting the upright.

Improved players’ performance
Vincent Enyeama was once again the team’s saviour after he stopped at least three sure Bosnian goals. The Eagles’ defense held its own against the imposing Bosnians, though it has to be said there was an air of hard-luck about the Bosnians. Notwithstanding, the experience of Joseph Yobo and Ambrose Efe was evident, while Kenneth Omeruo continues to impress.
Onazi worked his socks off as usual and gave the attack an added dimension with better long range shooting than in the previous game.
Emmanuel Emenike led the attack very well, using his pace and strength to torment the Bosnian defenders all night while also dropping deep to pick up balls. Osaze Odemwingie vindicated those of us who advocated for his recall and justified his starting berth as he took responsibility for the entire team, orchestrating proceedings all over the pitch, and was duly rewarded with the game’s solitary goal.

Juwon Oshaniwa and Michael Babatunde put up decent shifts, being under great scrutiny to justify their inclusion, but Ahmed Musa has still not shown that he belongs to the World Cup class. He was full of running as usual, but has failed to improve on the quality of his final ball. Shola Ameobi came on and only just strengthened a tiring attack but Ejike Uzoenyi didn’t make any notable impact, perhaps due to time.

Midfield crisis
For all the improved individual performance by the players, the Eagles’ gaping problem was even more exposed – that very poor midfield; that midfield so non-existent, the Bosnians literally strolled past it when in possession; that midfield which gave the attackers the added job of tracking as far back as the defense to either mark an opposing player or to initiate an attack.

Much of this can be attributed to the performance of John Mikel Obi. Did Mikel have a bad day, or has he totally shed all his creative abilities? Or perhaps he is back to his usual uninterested and leisurely demeanor knowing the coaches would never bench him…
Whatever the reason, against a delightful and fluid Bosnian midfield, Mikel was very, very ordinary. On the strength of his performance and the resultant outcome in the midfield, it is scary what the fate of the team will be when the stakes get higher.

Going forward
With four points from the two games so far, the Eagles have not yet qualified for the next round. But fortunately, its fate still lies in the hands of the players and coaches.
Going by the performance and results in the group matches so far, Argentina is not exactly as fantastic as many believed, and so are beatable. But it will not be an easy task for the Eagles, despite the fact that the South Americans have already qualified for the next round. The Argentines have a more talented and balanced team than Bosnia, and will need to get a result to ensure they remain on top of the group, because a victory for Nigeria will change the entire equation as the Eagles will then top the group.

Having failed to score against the Eagles who are not as defensively disciplined as the Iranians, it is possible for Bosnia – who are already out of contention – to lose to Iran (who will only need to ‘park-the-bus’ as usual, and hit the very porous Bosnian defense on the counter).

The Eagles therefore, only need to avoid defeat against Argentina in the last group game to qualify. A loss to Argentina and a victory for Iran over Bosnia by two or more goals will knock out the Eagles. Effectively, there is still a lot of work to be done.

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