It is really great to see that super-sub Ahmed Abdullahi fully recovered from head injury and concussion suffered in the heartwarming 2:2 draw against Burkina Faso in this week’s Under-20 Wafu B Cup group stage encounter. Although Ahmed was expected to play a huge role for Nigeria off the bench in this tournament, he has now been ruled out in order to focus more on his health. I still recall in 2021 when the youngster came off the bench to score 2 cracking goals for the Under-17 against Ivory Coast in that year’s Wafu Cup. He will be sorely missed but I endorse the decision to rule him out; health comes first. In Ahmed’s absence, Bosso and his boys will most likely face Benin Republic in the semi-finals or a far more technical Ivory Coast depending on the results of the final round of group matches. Despite coming out relatively unscathed in the group stages, the Flying Eagles still have a long way to go to be really considered a well oiled and well drilled machine, but they are definitely on the right path. What will be a tragedy is for them to crash out thereby failing to secure one of the two Under-20 Afcon tickets on offer despite their modest but impressive start to the competition.
All eyes are definitely on coach Bosso. The 49 year old serial Flying Eagles coach is already seen in many quarters as a failure, so failure to secure an Afcon ticket will not come as a surprise to these fans. But Bosso himself seems hell bent on proving doubters wrong and he was so close to securing all six points on offer in the group stages. But Burkina Faso, who reportedly have camped for far longer than Bosso’s boys, were always going to make their thorough planning and preparations count for something. Those Burkinabes are polished! Bosso was again out against Burkina Faso with his 4-2-3-1 formation which his team are now starting to settle into. Early in the game, they elected to go for quite a number of low and high crosses from the sides – one of which actually led to the first goal as Ibrahim’s cross from the right byline inexplicably landed in the net with the goalkeeper left disoriented. And Nigeria navigated the first half so skillfully to give the impression that the three points were already fait accompli. But Burkina Faso did come out strongly in the second half. The injury and concussion to Ahmed sort of disorientated the Flying Eagles a bit as a number of the players were visibly upset. But they regrouped to repel the marauding Burkinabes enough for the game to end 2:2. As for positives, Nigeria’s goalkeeper was again on top form. The defence was often exuberant and at times disjointed but determined they were in preventing serious incidents; despite the 2 goals conceded, they did a good job for the most parts and are quite dependable. The goalkeeper however should work on his handling skills as there were some potentially embarrassing moments. Also, whilst playing it out from the back is good, it does provide a measure of predictability and vulnerability. The Flying Eagles goalkeeper often plays it in a straight line to the defensive midfield who locates one of the defenders who then launches a long ball to midfield.
If the ball is intercepted in a delicate area during that routine by an alert opposing striker, the Flying Eagles will be toast! Nigeria’s slow and methodical build up play is fascinating to watch but the Burkinabes closed them down and cut off their channels yesterday making it difficult for Bosso’s boys to sustain their rhythm in the second half. The Flying Eagles were troubled by this and it remains to be seen how they overcome this sort of counterstrike in future games. The Burkinabes made it difficult for them to transition from defence to attack as they did against Ghana and the Flying Eagles struggled to wriggle out of tight spaces. That said, for the second game in a row, a Nigerian player was named man of the match. In all, the Flying Eagles did what they had to do to get over the line but Burkina Faso pushed them all the way. How far can Bosso’s boys go before being broken? Will the wheels come off in the semi-final? I sincerely hope not. But it’s hard to be fully confident in this Flying Eagles outfit. They have done well thus far and have been pragmatic when they needed to. But you get the feeling that they can be picked apart by a better drilled outfit. The main litmus test will be in the semi finals. Scale that then anything will be possible. And maybe Bosso’s detractors might then start to have a rethink.
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