The home-based Super Eagles of Nigeria participating in this year’s African Nations Championship (CHAN) are in real danger of crashing out of the tournament at the group stages despite currently topping their group on 4 points.
If you recall, Nigeria were in a similar situation two years ago with 4 points from two matches against Niger and Tunisia.
However, a freak 0:1 defeat to Guinea on the 26th of January 2016 condemned the Eagles to 3rd place and consequently early exit from the tournament.
Back to the present, Salisu Yusuf’s tutored Eagles are joint top of their group with Rwanda both on 4 points. Libya are 3rd with 3 points and already-eliminated Equatorial Guinea are last with 0 points going into the last round of matches on the 23rd of January 2018.
What makes it more worrying is that, unlike 2 years ago when Chisom Chikatara was scoring for fun and the Eagles playing well, this current squad are yet to hit the ground running with two unconvincing performances.
Rabiu Ali and co. were wasteful in their first match against Rwanda while they lacked creativity and a cutting edge against Libya despite their serendipitous 1:0 victory that hides cracks in the team’s overall performance.
So, how can a repeat of the scenario of 2 years ago be avoided?
In the game against Rwanda, Nigeria recorded 24 shots on goal with only 2 on target. One would expect Coach Salisu Yusuf to study such statistics and work on the strikers’ conversion rate.
Although the team recorded far less shots in the second match (6), at least half (3) were on target and 1 goal was scored.
Emeka Atuloma and veteran Rabiu Ali would be expected to influence the midfield far more than the have done in both matches thus far. In fact, the entire midfield would need to be more creative going forward and solid in shielding the defence if Nigeria is to go far in the tournament.
As Rwanda only managed 1 and Libya meagre 2 shots on target Nigeria’s matches thus far, goalkeeper Ezenwa has not been really tested. This is worrying.
Nigeria’s next opponents, Equatorial Guinea, are the whipping boys of the group with 2 defeats to their name thus far. The fact that they have nothing to lose may just bring out the best in them.
To avoid a shock defeat, the Super Eagles will need to stay focused and professional; create and take goal scoring chances; then play with the kind of verve, co-ordination and finesse that have been missing in their games thus far.