|Isaac Success celebrates the equalizer with teamates|
An overzealous attacking formula plus a monumental goalkeeper’s blunder which culminated in a 2 – 4 loss to a tactically and technically superior Brazilian side is the story of the Flying Eagles first match at the 2015 FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
Joshua Enaholo was uncomfortable with aerial balls and put the game beyond his time when he blundered by letting a tame shot slip through his legs. Left-back Abdullahi Mustapha struggled with the pace and skills of the Brazilians who went past his territory with ease (the first two Brazilian goals are testimony to that) just as Musa Muhammed’s rampaging runs forward were nullified for a greater part of the game due to defensive vulnerability.
Wilfred Ndidi used all his experience to work overtime, making timely interceptions even in midfield because the central defence was offered little or no protection by a porous defensive midfield. Zaharadeen Bello, his sidekick, was constantly drawn out of position, trying to cover for the wing-backs. In contrast to their good showing at the African series, the two Ifeanyis looked out of sorts could not deal with the Brazilians’ forays. They failed to shield the defence due to the speed, skill and movement of the Brazilians, and were shaky in possession thereby resorting to long balls out to the overloaded strike force.
Aside scoring the goals, Musa Yahaya and Success Isaac worked hard at creating chances, but Taiwo Awoniyi, while full of running, failed to find the net like he has been doing for the last few weeks. Aside hitting the upright and providing the assist for Yahaya’s goal, Kelechi Iheanacho surprisingly did little else in the entire game.
The real problem was that an overloaded attacking line created a deficiency in the midfield creatively. Coach Garba Manu takes the blame for this tactical gamble which did not pay off, and for taking too long to attempt to salvage the situation. It was obvious from the first half that there was need to strengthen the midfield and perhaps Kingsley Sokari’s creativity was needed to link midfield with attack. Unfortunately, he was not introduced until after the damage had been done by the demoralizing fourth goal.
The Eagles were not disgraced, rather, they put up a commendable performance against a very strong opposition. In fact, it is actually a good thing they lost so they are not in any delusion about the magnitude of the task ahead. There is however no cause for panic just yet. They will come out the better from this defeat if the necessary adjustments are made – and I believe there will be.
Right from the Under-17 days, Garba Manu’s success has been based on the team’s ability to outscore opponents and not on a solid defence (like most world cup winning teams). Against Brazil, the team showed flashes of its attacking might so the signs are encouraging. But what will happen on a day when it simply refuses to go right for the attack, and the backline is supposed to at least keep the afloat?
Therein lies my fear, going forward in the competition; the defence.