If fans had expected an uplifting, rambunctious and mind-blowing performance from the Super Eagles against Sierra Leone yesterday, what they got was slightly more mundane.
Still, Nigeria emerged victorious with a slim 2:1 victory to hand Peseiro his first win as Super Eagles coach albeit in underwhelming circumstances.
Make no mistake about it: the Super Eagles still have a long way to go in producing performances that will begin to heal the wounds of recent damaging disappointments.
Yesterday’s victory was good for the record books but bad for lifting morale.
Coach Peseiro had said his philosophy was ring-fenced around attacking football, so one would have been forgiven for thinking that the Portuguese gaffer was the head coach of Sierra Leone early in the match.
Because it was the visitors who started like a house on fire with much attacking ferociousness.
A leaden silence descended on the near-empty Abuja stadium in 11 minutes when Morsay headed the visitors to the lead. In truth, that writing had been on the wall from the blast of the whistle: the Super Eagles had been disorganized and incoherent in their play and had been particularly vulnerable at the back.
The Super Eagles set out on a 4-4-2 formation and the difference was clear from Eguavoen’s approach. Here, you had the 4 defenders with the 2 wingers on a parallel line with the 2 midfielders firmly and distinctly behind the 2 strikers.
This allowed Moses Simon to get help if he was ganged up on and for Chukwueze to readily run into space from deep. There was little risk of the formation becoming 4-2-4 for long periods which led to Chukwueze and Moses Simon being cut off and isolated under Eguavoen.
So, Simon, when marked and crowded out, the Nantes man simply laid it on a plate for marauding Iwobi to guide effortlessly into the right corner of the net for Nigeria’s equaliser in 16 minutes. Chukwueze ran into promising areas several times in this match only to fluff his lines; on another day the Villarreal man would have bagged himself at least 2 goals in such an encounter.
Moses Simon’s withdrawn position again meant he could pick our Osihmen with a delicate diagonal header right inside the 18 yard box for the Napoli man to slide home for Nigeria’s winning goal in 41 minutes following excellent work from Aina down the right flank.
2:1 it ended.
The state of the pitch was deplorable. It will be remiss not to mention this as one of the factors that ruined the enjoyment factor of the game. The Super Eagles lacked coordination early in the match but soon gained their composure as the match went on. Alex Iwobi was the conductor and heartbeat of the team with his ball carrying displays. He was everywhere in midfield with the sole aim of distributing the ball and orchestrating attacking initiatives: he did well.
The formation left the back line overstretched as Aina particularly struggled to slot back into defence after overlapping. The midfield felt too flat without a recognised defensive midfielder and the whole Super Eagles apparatus felt too open for Sierra Leone to pick holes (which they did several times). In fact, it was a miracle that Sierra Leone didn’t add to their solitary goal. Good goalkeeping from Uzoho and the woodwork spared Nigeria’s blushes. The players tried very hard to interpret Peseiro’s vision which is commendable. But, worry signs remain with a shaky defence, fragile midfield and wasteful attack. The overall pattern of play of the Super Eagles wasn’t entirely inspirational. In all it was a slightly depressing display all round. Well done to the Super Eagles for grinding out the results but the cloud of dissatisfaction and disappointment that gathered before the match didn’t clear up afterwards: Super Eagles fans are still unhappy. But, a win is a win and it could have been worse. The Super Eagles and the coaches have to be congratulated for starting the Afcon qualification campaign on a winning note despite the subjective outlook of the game. They can only get better.
It seems like it will take time for Peseiro’s Super Eagles to click into gear. Patience is required. We now look forward to the next game against Sao Tome and Principe .
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