Is It Purely Psychological?
With the dust slowly settling on Nigeria's hard fought slim victory against South Africa, Coach Nduka Ugbade has again hailed 'psychology' as one of the secrets to his team's success.
"We worked a bit in training and we did some corrections.We realized that it was purely "psychological" and we talked to the players and we saw an improvement today." Said Ugbade.
But some things were visibly different in the approach of the Golden Eaglets against their South African counterparts yesterday.
The changes he made to the starting line up packed a mighty punch and added bite to the team's attack particularly on the flanks.
Also, their through-passes from midfield were more effective and added more quality which led to several credible scoring opportunities (and even a goal that was ruled out due to the striker being marginally offside).
Cut backs and low crosses from near-the-byline have been a staple of Ugbade’s approach throughout this tournament but it had been met with limited success.
The Zambians found these crosses foreseeable hence they were able to neutralize them. The Moroccans packed their box 18 with bodies to prevent Nigerian crosses from causing them harm.
But yesterday, 2 of Nigeria's 3 goals came from those low crosses from both wings. This is a crucial development but for me, those crosses - by and large - are still readable and aren't always delivered to the highest quality.
There is nothing wrong with this approach to unlocking opposition defenses. I just feel that Ugbade’s boys should develop a way of 'masking it' so that it isn't always apparent that that was what they intended. As a result, teams like Zambia and Morocco wouldn't pile bodies in their 18 yard box only waiting to intercept those crosses.
The Golden Eaglets do an excellent job to get to or near the bylines to deliver a variety of those crosses (despite ruthless and relentless attempts to halt their advance). But their deliveries and the techniques employed have to be better. Also, runs into the box and connections from their colleagues have to be clinical.
The Golden Eaglets are not attacking spaces inside the 18 yard box as ferociously and effectively as they can - they are often outnumbered by opposition defenders (who had anticipated the crosses to start with!).
In clawing their way back (twice) to eventually win 3:2 yesterday, the Golden Eaglets showed character and resourcefulness which has to be commended. But the manner of going behind deserves more tactical attention than seeing it from a purely 'psychological' standpoint.
Nigeria's inadequate defensive high line off the corner kick left the South African player to attack the space and pounce with a powerful header that crashed the bar before taking a second bite of the cherry with a well taken volley for the 1st goal.
Nigeria's defensive apparatus should have done better.
The second goal was even more embarrassing from a defensive point of view.
The South African player sliced through 2 Nigerian defenders like hot blade through cheese, flooring both of them in the process, before slamming home for their second goal.
That should serve as a wake-up call for our defenders to work on their interceptions and tackles in 1-on-1 situations. At this level, they should expect to face raw talents who are not afraid to do a Maradona when the opportunity presents itself.
All in all, 3:2 was a fair result.
The way the South Africans set up gave the illusion that the Golden Eaglets had improved massively. Yes they improved but there are still cracks in some aspects of their game.
Once they identify and address these areas of concern, then world cup qualification and a podium finish await them in this tournament.