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How Was Randy Waldrum Able To Outsmart South Africa? Nigeria 0:0 South Africa

South Africa vs Nigeria 0:0 (0:1 aggregate) – A Reflection


 When asked about her game plan for their ill-fated Olympic qualifier campaign,  South Africa loquacious coach Ellis said afterwards that she started the game with 3 strikers upfront to score early, bringing the game level on aggregate. Little do she know that Nigerian tactical Guru Randy Waldrum was one step ahead of her.


When I paused the game in the first half to try to decipher and decode Waldrum’s approach and direction for the match, I was as fascinated as I was intrigued. You see, the American was aware of Ellis ambitions and how she planned to achieve her goal. So, he picked the midfield as his battleground. It’s all well and good for Ellis to position 3 speedy and deadly strikers upfront, but the ball has to get to them first before they can even have a sniff at Nigeria’s 18 yard box.


So, Waldrum set up Nigeria’s  midfield on a ratio of 5 midfielders to South Africa’s 3 midfielders (5:3). Their brief was simple: defend from the front, dominate centre midfield and shield the back four. To further fortify this approach, defenders Alozie and Okeke had overlapping responsibilities. What’s funny is that this is not the overlapping responsibilities one would expect. Rather, Okeke and Alozie were to pick their moments to break out of their defensive wall to augment Nigeria’s midfield so as to further contain South Africa’s attacking ambitions to Nigeria’s midfield at all cost. Once either of the fullbacks tackle and intercept South African players in Nigeria’s midfield, they speedily return to their defensive station as their job is done.


What was the outcome? South Africa were reduced to speculative, hopeless long range shots in the first half. The could not get into their rhythm and they often struggled to traverse the ball far beyond the centre circle.


It was yet again another defensive masterclass from Waldrum.


Fans who know nothing about football would be quick to condemn centre forward Iheuzo yesterday. However, she was isolated on purpose. The wingers meant to deliver crosses; the midfielders to thread through passes; the fullbacks to deliver long balls all had their antennas tune to their defensive responsibilities. By the time Iheuzo receives any service, it is way too heavy or understandably overcooked for her to make anything out of it. She was excused from defensive duties but expected to rub her socks off and make the best use of half chances – which she did.


In the second half, Coach Ellis had to do something to even the odds. So, she sacrificed one defender to provide additional body in midfield and the flanks giving a ratio of 4:5 (4 South Africans midfielders to 5 Nigerian midfielders). I used the term midfielders loosely because South African extra body upfront helped them operate better on the flanks. This was potentially harmful to Waldrum’s philosophy as it meant spreading out and stretching out our midfielders and full backs than they were comfortable. It was then no surprise that South Africa started delivering dangerous crosses and had more credible attempt at goal.


To be honest, at some point in the second half I saw South Africa equalizing but it was not to be, we held out and grabbed the only Olympic ticker on offer!


I thought all the players performed admirably. Abiodun and Ayinde did the heavy lifting in midfield to muscle the opposition off the ball. The attacking midfield infrastructure of Echiegini, Kanu and Ajibade produced performances that succeeded in pinning the South Africans in their own half. Their interactions were well co-ordinated to frustrate South Africa. Iheuzo, the centre forward still delivered deadly runs and pressings though isolated. She injected her role with urgency and intensity which almost resulted in 2 goals. The fantastic 4 at the aback was led by the ubiquitous Okeke who ran herself ragged to augment shore up the midfield whilst not abandoning her primary responsibilities. Ohale, Ucheibe and Alozie earned their wages more in the second half when a change in South African approach meant they had to give no quarter. Nnadozie was unyielding and uncompromising as ever and it would have taken something out of this world to beat her when you consider how defensively dialled in 9 of her 10 outfield players were.


In all Waldrum succeeded in selecting players who bought into his deceptively ultra-defensive philosophy which wasn’t initially evident in the 4-2-3-1 formation he set up. The integration and interaction of players was seamless. There was harmony and rich tapestry in their multilayered interpretation of Waldrum’s instructions. Their level of concentration was profound. They lived up to the defensive expectations us fans have come to expect from this team by not conceding a single (I mean a single) goal against current African champions. The outcome of the match is a work of passion by players well focused on the tasks on hand with the camaraderie, confidence and class to match any team in world football at the moment.


You have either paid or sacrifice your time to watch the Super Falcons frustrate the ambitions of their foes and that’s what Waldrum’s women delivered and it is bloody brilliant!



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