The Waldrum-Lauren Gregg tutored Super Falcons gave the United States women's soccer team a run for their money in the second leg of their September friendly that ended in a pulsating 2:1 encounter on Tuesday.
With limited practice and jet lag contributing to the 4:0 loss in the first leg three days prior, the Super Falcons showed the sort of credible, compelling and competitive displays they could produce when well primed.
Playing a diamond 4-4-2 formation in the first half, the Super Falcons opened up gaps along the channels which allowed the Americans whip several perilous crosses into delicate areas of Nigeria's 18 yard box. One of those cunning crosses would eventually lead to an own goal by Demehin in 24 minutes.
The Americans could have added to their lead due to how open and loose Nigeria were in their play and the problems inherent in the 4-4-2 diamond formation. These problems included just having one defensive midfielder and inadequate support the fullbacks of Ogbonna and Imuran were receiving from the further forward wingers.
However, after Nigeria reverted to the 4-2-3-1 formation in the second half, their attack had more bite with the introduction of Kanu and their centre defence had the buffer of two defensive midfielders in front of them which allowed the wingers to be more effective defensively without falling too deep.
Kudos have to be given to Waldrum and Gregg for tweaking the formation which eventually led to the eloquently bent beauty of a curler from Kanu that made the scoreline 1:1 in 50 minutes.
The Americans were visibly rattled. The openings they found along Nigeria's channels dried up and their crosses were effectively dealt with by Nigeria's tweaked defensive infrastructure. Kanu was causing no end of problems for the Americans on the other side as several of her crosses had to be addressed.
It took the introduction of their talis-woman the legendary Megan Rapinoe who managed to crack open Nigeria's implacable defence with a world class cross to Lavelle whose deceptive header left Nnadozie flummoxed before creeping into the net via the post.
2:1 it ended.
I now go into my five observations for the encounter.
1, Demehin and Imuran impressed a lot. it was always a gamble to play recent U-20 defenders against the great USA but this duo more than held their own. Despite shaky starts (not helped by the loose first half formation) the youngsters recovered strongly with compelling, sturdy tackles and interceptions. Long balls from Demehin to attack caught the eye as was how they adjusted to the new formation when they had cover.
2, Onyi Echegini has valuable contributions to make to the Super Falcons' midfield. She did start rather slowly due to the formation but her touches were neat and she tried to bring players in with incisive passes.
3, Alozie and T. Payne are more effective offensively. Again, the formation in the first half limited their effectiveness but overall they were two of the sparkling players for Nigeria throughout the encounter.
4, Christie Ucheibe continues to be an unsung hero. She provided valuable cover for the young Demehin and Imuran with her recovery tackles and interceptions. She helped to play out from the back and she didn't allow herself to be overawed by the calibre of the opposition. With someone else to partner her, Nigeria's defensive midfield department will be sturdy as it was in the second half.
5, Randy Waldrum is yet to win over doubters. Many fans credit Nnadozie for her exceptional, breathtaking saves which kept the scoreline manageable, if not, Waldrum’s first half formation wouldn't have withstood the onslaught of the Americans. But he has to be credited for tweaking the formation which almost led to a most unlikely 1:1 draw.
Despite the reassuring performance, the fact remains that Nigeria still hasn't won any game in their last four matches. A win for the Super Falcons is long overdue. Will it come against mighty Japan next month? We will have to wait and see.