Monday, 16 November 2015

Russia 2018 – Act One, Scene One: Super Eagles now minnows?

Coach Oliseh and his wards in training
I totally disagree with the conjecture that there are “no minnows in football” which is often used to justify the Super Eagles’ poor performances (such as what was witnessed against Swaziland). I acknowledge that there are some days when certain factors can cause things to go awry for the best teams in the World and they fail to get a result against lesser teams. But when this happens too often, then perhaps the 'bigger' team has plunged and is now a minnow.
After the confidence boosting friendly win over Cameroun, the Super Eagles’ struggle to earn a goalless draw in Swaziland once again raised questions about the Super Eagles’ true pedigree.

A world cup qualifying match between the Nigeria and Swaziland should, on a normal day, be a routine victory for any serious Super Eagles team – and I say this with no disrespect to Swaziland. Unfortunately, against weaker football nations, the Super Eagles has consistently failed to exude the characteristic dominance of a football powerhouse.

With a penchant for repeating the same mistakes, for making self-serving or sentimental decisions and ultimately failing to resolve glaring flaws in the team for almost a decade now, Nigeria may very well have ignorantly deteriorated to the status of a football minnow while still under an illusion of being a football powerhouse.

Mediocre performances were one of the hallmarks of the Super Eagles for the entirety of those tortuous years under Stephen Keshi – a Nations Cup victory notwithstanding. These performances seemed to have spilled over into Oliseh’s new dispensation but can at this stage be overlooked as one of those initial struggles that come with having a “new team”. However, certain observations have generated fears that these poor performances may not be temporary – and these fears are amplified with each passing game…

Less than 10 games into his regime, two high profile players announced their retirement from the national team – one, very ingloriously – due to issues off-the-pitch. This questions the state of affairs in the dressing-room, a consequence of proficient man-management, or lack thereof.

Abdullahi Shehu, a former youth international, is young and promising; same goes for Kelechi Iheanacho whose undoubted talent has already caused quite a buzz. On the evidence of the Swaziland game however, both players are still future prospects as yet. The seeming poor choice of personnel in the team was further evident in the choice of Ahmed Musa as the substantial team captain. If anything, Musa seems to have been weighed down by the captain’s armband as – very glaring against Swaziland – he not only failed to inspire any form of fire from his teammates, but his own performance decline a tad.

Tactically, lapses have been very conspicuous, especially in the utilization of players and decision-making. After obviously passing out instructions before fielding players, certain decisions during matches seem more like a gamble or “trial-and-error,” than tactical decisions. Rabiu Ibrahim and Lukman Haruna have suffered the indignity of being substituted after very minimal time on the pitch.
Sylvester Igboun was invited having made his mark as an attacking option from the wing, but he is deployed in the midfield where he has been absolutely ineffective so far.
John Mikel Obi’s timely renaissance has been one of the few bright spots of the new tea but the lack of creative incision still plagues the team. This is probably because the 4-3-3 formation is not working with the current personnel as currently set-up. If Oliseh prefers this formation, then Mikel should be pushed forward to play the free role behind the strikers where he can control proceedings and provide the supply the strikers require so direly.

Despite the poor performance and result in the first leg, I believe the Eagles will definitely overcome Swaziland in the second leg (tomorrow) to qualify for the Group Stage of the World Cup qualifying series. This is where the real challenge will commence as every match point will be crucial (so Coach Oliseh and his wards will have to be wary of throwing away two valuable points like they did in Lobamba) and the team’s true pedigree will be ascertained.

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