Super Eagles of Nigeria lashed Liberia with 2 strokes of goals in this weekend's world cup qualifier.
Here are my 6 observations from the match:
1.Throwaway Football Entertainment is here to stay: for the umpteenth time, Rohr's Super Eagles played a brand of football that in truth is easy to watch and ultimately got the desired result. Unfortunately it is not a match I will return to watch time and again with any fondness because it simply lacked any tactical excitement. You didn't see the players orchestrate any maneuvers that were breath-taking. None of the action got me at the edge of my seat. There was no memorable period of play offensive or defensive that I long to go back and watch.
The match wasn't at all overly uplifting. A few performances from the likes of Osimhen, Iheanacho, Balogun, and even Simon attempted to lift the mood but they produced nothing jaw dropping, spectacular or monumental. It will never go down in the annals of great Super Eagles qualifying matches.
If you are satisfied with a victory devoid of aesthetic football artistry then you will have no problems with yesterday's showing from Nigeria. However, Rohr's Super Eagles are slowly becoming adept at getting results with a brand of football that peppers over obvious cracks that can easily be exposed by more tactical teams.
2. Reticent to Make Substitutions: with so many exciting players to pick from - even the returning albeit controversial Ighalo - Rohr only made 2 substitutions (one in the dying minutes). Granted in other matches he made more substitutions, Rohr should be bold and brave with the quality of players at his disposal.
Football is a results business, I get it. But the Super Eagles fans are itching to see what this exciting array of talents can offer. By incorporating and accommodating more substitutions into his game plan, Rohr would demonstrate that he is in tune with the pulse, aspirations and yearnings of the fans (in addition to getting results).
3. Other Wingback Options to be Explored: Jamilu Collins (bless him) produced a hard working display as left-wingback yesterday. He got into promising positions, he drew fouls in dangerous positions that Nigeria could have profited, he defended admirably with dogged determination and attacked with intent. The same could easily have been said for his opposite Moses Simon.
But both lacked end product in the way of deft deliveries and cunning crosses. Tried as they did, both wingbacks didn't impose themselves on the game. Their first touches were nowhere near first-class and their movements lacked the grace, poise and elegance of modern day wingbacks.
Other options should be tried.
4. The Centre Midfield is Capable of So Much: the centre midfielder should be like the immaculate orchestra conductor whose hands dictate the direction of the magnificent melody produced by the band which leaves the audience spellbound.
It is a gracious department that should evoke such excitement and produce wow moments that will put fans at the edge of our seats and help generate a round of applause. Yet Aribo's output continues to minimise to enjoyment to be derived from that department.
In this match, his moves were uninspiring, his passes were unimaginative and his all round play failed to grab fans' attention by the collar in how simple yet banal he went about his business.
Prior to the match, a friend on a Nigerian football WhatsApp chat argued vehemently that Aribo should be stripped of the number 10 jersey. Owing to the grace and flamboyance often attached to previous wearers of the jersey, I am inclined to concur.
5. Centre Defence Frailties Exist: simply put, Balogun and Ekong are suspect when put under pressure. I remember watching the Italy vs England European final and marvelled at how centre backs Bonucci and Chiellini (34 and 37 years old respectively) both produced masterclass defending for the now defending champions Italy.
Though advanced in age, this didn't slow them down against lightning speed, young agile England strike force. They showed exemplary composure, timed their runs, tackles and interceptions to perfection and always looked in command when under pressure.
By contrast, Ekong and Balogun looked vulnerable when the Liberians pressured them. Balogun always looked like he would struggle for pace whilst Ekong had one or two questionable judgements in him (like his back header that almost set a Liberian striker through on goal). Both could easily lose their footing and composure and they tend to generate moments of panic. You are never really comfortable when opposition strikers drive at them.
It could partly explain the drive towards having 3 defenders so that Ekong and Balogun's shortcomings would not be easily exposed and explored.
6. Super Eagles Attack is Losing its Bite: Taiwo Awoniyi might not have done himself any favours by showcasing his immaculate white teeth (rather than his attacking killer instinct) in a smile after missing a glorious chance to put Nigeria ahead against CAR in Lagos. This is serious business which should be reflected in a striker's reaction in such situations more so as Super Eagles centre forwards have struggled recently.
In the 2 games against CAR, only 1 goal was scored by Super Eagles strikers. In the 2 high profile friendlies against Cameroon just this June, our strikers failed to find the back of the net. In fact in the last 5 world cup qualifiers, only 4 out the 8 goals were scored by Super Eagles strikers (not counting penalties).
You then wonder why Rohr and Amaju panicked to recall Ighalo.
In the Liberia match, Osimhen did get into promising situations but could have done better with his chances at times. Iheanacho didn't actually look threatening to score though he helped create goal scoring opportunities with his passes and movements.
I would have thought parading 2 potent strikers up front would add bite and ferocity to Nigeria's attack but that wasn't forthcoming against Liberia yesterday. Rather than provide the extra body up front, Iheanacho had to drop deep(er) to inject the creativity that the midfield lacked (something number 10 Aribo should have provided).
In all, the 2-man attack didn't work for me and the Super Eagles strikers themselves are creating fertile grounds for Ighalo to displace them. Even Osimhen is not entirely irreplaceable if Ighalo hits the ground running.
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