Retrospective Observations: Falconets vs South Korea
Over the weekend, the fabulous Falconets of Nigeria put the smiles on the faces of fans after putting their South Korean counterparts to the sword in a slim yet sweet and sumptuous 1:0 hit-job.
This victory, which all but guaranteed their safe and secure passage to the quarter-finals, also heralded an impressive eight games unbeaten run across 720 minutes of football since last year.
Whilst many Nigeria fans have been over the moon by this buoyant 100% group stage record thus far, others continue to err on this side of caution stating that this Falconets team are rough around certain tactical edges.
Whilst I share the concern of wary fans, there can be no greater test for any team than facing and defeating cast iron tournament favourites. For those who follow the English Premier League, it is like Liverpool defeating Manchester City and Chelsea in tow.
The Falconets came to this tournament to achieve 3 objectives: establish a giant killing reputation (check), make an impression in the tournament (check), attain a podium finish, preferably 1st at best or 2nd at worst (outstanding).
Against South Korea, I witnessed 10 elements that I wish to share which could have a bearing on how the team will fare for the remainder of the tournament.
Ten Elements Against South Korea
1. Imuran' impact: as a key defensive kahuna, the Rivers Angels flamboyant fullback stamped her authority on the last game with timely tackles, neat retrievals and exquisite redistribution of the ball.
That said, her overlapping runs could be more varied and ramped up to provide enhanced outlets for Sabastine on the flanks and help increase the team's attacking threats.
2. Idoko's position: without a goal to her name against South Korea and in the previous match, it begs the question as to whether Idoko (the starting sniper of the team) is the ideal centre forward for this outfit.
Her movements up front did not bear much fruits in the last match though she ruffled many feathers in the penultimate match.
The Nasarawa Amazons utility player dished out sumptuous passes and eventually provided an elegant assist against France which suggests her optimal position might be as a conductor in the midfield orchestra
3. Jerry's statement: the Bayelsa Queens winger is yet to really come alive in this tournament. With the Koreans knowing Nigeria's reliance on wing play, Joy's impact was effectively neutralised with defenders ganging up on her.
Both wingers Joy and Onyenezide will have to show more guile, cunningness and be more dynamic to shrug off their markers for the remainder of the tournament.
4. Sebastian or Simon: although she took the first match against France by storm, Sebastian should be mindful of not becoming too predictable.
The Koreans correctly predicted that she would attempt take-ons, hence they hemmed in on her and effectively clipped her wings (similar to how Moses Simon was restricted against Tunisia at the men's Afcon earlier in the year).
The speedster, who is currently clubless, must learn to release the balls quicker. Also, she needs to work on her movements so as not to be curtailed easily.
5. Onyenezide's deliveries: the Robo Queens exciting midfielder did pull a rabbit out of her hat with an audacious blast from range for Nigeria's winner against South Korea.
If only she can improve her decision making and quality of her deliveries, the pitch will be her oyster.
6. Oyono the cat: the Bayelsa Queens net minder showed considerable improvements from the first match where she had butterflies in her stomach.
Against South Korea, she actually floated like a butterfly to make telling saves that could have tilted the outcome of the game in favour of South Korea.
Low dives to parry; two-footed saves; and readjustments to deflect a sure fire goal bound deflected shot were just a few of her marquee moments in this second match.
Her looks and demeanour also exuded confidence against South Korea. She should keep it up!
Most of the fans who doubted her qualities after the France match must now feel reassured.
7. Danjuma's predictability: those who watched the last game intently would realise that South Korea anticipated quite rightly what to expect from Nigeria.
Our wingers were curtailed, our physicality was matched, the Falconets were - for all intents and purposes - reduced to speculative shots and gaps were opened up in our defence.
But for the woodwork and exemplary goalkeeping by the improving Oyono, the outcome would have been radically different.
Danjuma has fallen back to the 4-3-3 formation that made him cut a large swath in Africa but will this formation continue to come good for him for the remainder of the tournament? South Korea sourced him out but were unlucky to find a Nigerian goalkeeper in boiling form!
Wingers Onyenezide and Jerry were effectively sequestered by South Korea and service to centre forward Idoko was sliced off. Danjuma's substitutions didn't actually breathe new life into this or the previous game.
To make it work, Danjuma must be creative, dynamic and imaginative in how he instructs his girls to interact and interpret the 4-3-3 formation. It will be interesting to know what his plan B is if 4-3-3 does not cut it.
8. Late goals: the only goal against South Korea came in the 83rd minute while the one against France came in the 85th.
This shows how focused and determined the Falconets are but it also suggests a team that can be slow off the blocks.
Some opponents might sought to finish Danjuma's girls off early before they get into their groove.
9. Demehin's deliveries: the centre back from Rivers Angels is truly leading from the back with her astute defensive discipline and pristine long balls.
These long balls more often than not hit the mark. The Falconets will need her to continue launching these beautiful looping balls are they are key to unlocking defences and creating openings like they nearly did against South Korea.
10. Team frustration: the Falconets allowed themselves to get frustrated against South Korea when their efforts were not yielding fruits.
The like of Sebastian, Onyenezide, Joy Jerry and Bashirat Amoo resorted to wild, ill-advised, ill-timed, and aimless shots whilst captain Demehin could be seen venting her anger against a teammate after a passing routine went awry.
We are saw what happened when the Super Falcons lost their composure at the just concluded Wafcon. The Falconets will need to retain their composure even when things aren't going their way.
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