Thursday, 19 November 2015

Russia 2018 – Act One, Scene Two: Eagles commence journey to Russia



A new-look Super Eagles team qualified for the group stages of the 2018 World Cup qualifiers
As was believed, the Super Eagles was able to overcome Swaziland’s threat to progress to the Group Stages of the 2018 World Cup Qualifying series thanks to two goals in the second leg. In a more encouraging display than that witnessed five days prior, the team’s finishing was the major concern amidst several other inferences drawn as Oliseh’s claimed a third victory in his 6 games in charge so far.

Oliseh gets selection right
Coach Sunday Oliseh had made drastic personnel changes to his team after coming under renewed pressure after the barren draw in the first leg, and was visibly relieved at the end of the game as his selections turned out to be spot-on. He dropped three better known Super Eagles names (Mikel Obi, Uwa Echiejile and Godfrey Oboabona) from his starting lineup for a trio of local players – Paul Onobi, Chima Akas and Austin Oboroakpo – who were able to hold their heads high after 90 minutes. Ezekiel Bassey also made an impact as a substitute.
There is probably a lesson in this…

Home-based players, antidote to continental struggle?
Paul Onobi replaced Mikel Obi to provide grit, aggression and urgency; to allow Ogenyi Onazi more freedom to join the attack, as well as allow for faster transition in possession. Austin Oboroakpo seemed to have done a better job of warding off the Sihlangu Semnikati attack than Oboabona did in the first leg, while substitute Ezekiel Bassey briefly showed how much of an attacking menace he can be. Do the home-based players hold the key to success against minnows on the continent?

Poor finishing
The team failed to convert its first half dominance to goals against a resilient Swaziland defense. It however created a lot more chances in the second half but, perhaps out of anxiety, finishing was pathetic. Simon Moses, Odion Ighalo and Sylvester Igboun were all guilty of poor shooting, but credit has to go to the Swaziland goalkeeper for his exceptional positioning and reflexes.
The importance of converting chances cannot be over-emphasized considering that if the Sihlangu Semnikati had managed to get an equalizer (following the threat they posed after going a goal down), the Eagles would probably have been eliminated.

Set-pieces to the rescue
Austin Okocha’s low drive through the Malian wall during the third place match of the 2004 AFCON was the last time the Super Eagles scored via a direct free kick – over 11 years ago. Simon Moses’ profile continues to soar as he inspired another huge win for the team when he bent a free-kick gloriously over the Swaziland wall from 35-yards out for the opening goal. Ambrose Efe rose to turn-in Sylvester Igboun’s free-kick for the second. Each goal was a beautiful spectacle to behold, second only to the relieve it brought, and will remain even more so if the team continues be proficient in utilizing this deadlock-breaking lifeline…

Musa struggling with the armband?
Captain Ahmed Musa was substituted for the second game running, and his confidence seemed to have taken a huge blow as he trudged off the pitch. Musa though one of the brighter prospects for present day and future Super Eagles, has been known for lack of consistency in performances. His pronouncement as substantial team captain appears to have triggered another of those off-periods, or perhaps several months of top-flight action is taking its toll on him.

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