Fans on various social media platforms are still reflecting on the Super Falcons' cumbersome 2:0 win against debutants Botswana in yesterday's second group stage match in the ongoing Wafcon tournament.
Despite a buccaneering possession stats of a whooping 74%, and an insane pass accuracy of 82%, the overall manner of play of the Super Falcons still left a lot to be desired.
Onumonu put Nigeria ahead with a neat touch and cultured close range finish in 21 minutes before Ucheibe's emphatic header off a corner kick 48 minutes hit the bull's eye for Nigeria's second and final goal of the encounter.
The team needed this victory like an infant needs milk following the rather bland and maladroit brand of football that contributed to the 2:1 loss against South Africa in the opening match.
Quite rightly, Waldrum’s tactical approach and players selection and the team's creatively bankrupt performance were critically panned by the media and roundly condemned by a wide section of fans as being gravely unacceptable for a team of Nigeria's pedigree and calibre.
This seems to have got under Waldrum’s skin as several media outlets have quoted him saying 'Nigeria' s media are negative'. If that is true, are the fans negative too?
The truth as I see it is that the Super Falcons have been subpar thus far in this tournament; yesterday's win notwithstanding. They played second fiddle to South Africa and crowbarred their way into victory against minnows Botswana.
It is to how the players performed in the match against Botswana that I now turn my attention.
Player and Coach Ratings:
1, Chiamaka Nnadozie (7/10) carried out her duties in superb manner yesterday despite being tested minimally. She executed a routine catch from a freekick earlier on before earning her wages with an excellent dive and a powerful punch to refract a goal bound freekick in 31 minutes. She would also show off with neat save in 38 minutes.
Nnadozie really excelled in her distribution yesterday. An excellent long range pass made its way to Kanu before hurling another one across distance to Otu.
In all, Nnadozie was an epitome of calm and composure as she commanded her area with shouts and instructions and looked very assured when besieged.
2, Tony Payne (7/10) was a live wire in the left back yesterday as quite a lot of things she touched turned to gold.
A good number of her dribbles and take ons were successful which helped inject flair in an otherwise serviceable Falcons side. Her floating freekicks, long balls and crosses often proved problematic for the opposition.
She overlapped in a vibrant and efficient manner and her interplay and subsequent cross off an Ordega back-flip was a joy to behold. In fact, she combined well with Ordega severally and her picture-perfect corner kick produced the second goal.
Defensively, she helped caged the opposition. She did produce a few misplaced short range and overcooked long range passes. But overall, she was explosive and exciting to watch.
3, Onome Ebi (6.5/10) executed her centre back role in an acceptable manner yesterday. She also continued to demonstrate her usefulness in offensive areas when her headed knock down to Ordega in the opposition 18 yard box caused problems.
She kept her short range passes simple and on point with her long balls to the centre forward proving to hold much promise (like one to Onumonu which limited pace from the centre forward ruined a decent opportunity).
Ebi is positionally astute which allowed her make meaningful blocks, neat tackles and timely interceptions. But she can be beaten in a foot race which was why she failed to keep up with the opposition striker in 38 minutes who raced and pulled the trigger with Nnadozie pulling off a save.
4, Osinachi Ohale (6/10) performed her defensive duties well enough although she wasn't always tidy. For instance a well meaning but ultimately badly executed through pass meant for Ajibade in 38 minutes bounced back to put Nigeria on the back foot culminating in Nnadozie making a save.
But some of her well intentioned passes to the strikers did make it through. She executed some neat and tidy headed clearances whilst overall keeping things simple and, for the most part, effective (though I hate to admit this).
Ohale seems assured in her role and puts in a work rate that cannot be faulted. But you just feel that there is a better candidate for that role if the coaches look hard enough.
5, Michelle Alozie (6/10) dispatched her duties dutifully yesterday with focus and a manner that helped the Super Falcons maintain their shape at the back. She kept her passes simple and ensured her first touches did not cede possession in a manner that would have put her team on the back foot.
Usually an adventurous fullback, Alozie did more of the defending yesterday. She blocked off a freekick in style and executed a number of clearances, some of which were headers. When she did bomb forward, she did so with flair and intent.
Though we witnessed a few misplaced passes, wayward movements and some questionable decisions from her, Alozie demonstrated yesterday that she can be business-like in her defendings when required.
6, Ngozi Okobi (6/10) exuded calm and a mature demeanour in midfield yesterday. Her effectiveness of her midfield movements and coverage can be easily overlooked but these contributed to containing the opposition in areas of the pitch less harmful to the Super Falcons.
She kept her passes simple and contributed to Nigeria's healthy passing accuracy stats. She was not a passenger as she showed willingness and a desire to help put Botswana in their place. But in truth, more spark, energy, fluidity and vitality emerged in Nigeria's midfield after she was subbed off in 63 minutes.
7, Halimat Ayinde (7/10) unleashed a lot of edible passes yesterday that unlocked Botswana's defence and unsettled them on very many occasions.
Her vision led to the incisive through ball that pierced through grass to locate Onumonu for Nigeria's first goal. The two almost combined again for another scoring opportunity but Onumonu couldn't latch on to Ayinde's neat pass.
She had a number of passes blocked by the opposition before havoc could be wrecked. Another exquisite pass located Gift Monday in 67 minutes to open up a juicy opportunity for Nigeria.
She even had the temerity to attempt an audacious bullet from long range that was parried.
Apart from her passing-efficiency, Ayinde's movements and nudges helped Nigeria dominate the midfield and to dictate the tempo of the match.
8, Rita Chikwelu (5.5/10) unleashed an incendiary inswinger that could have been problematic for the opposition on another day.
She did keep her passes simple and largely accurate but nothing overly special. She executed one looping corner kick that rattled the opposition.
It was also her captivating freekick that was finely headed down by Ebi for Ordega to connect.
An effective headed clearance sadly caused the concussion that led to her substitution in 45 minutes. For all her good works, the pace of the game still felt to me incongruous with her style. The midfield was functional but not fluid or explosive with Rita's style.
9, Rasheedat Ajibade (6.5/10) delivered a decent (if at times muted) performance from the flanks.
Personally, I think she comes to her own and she is more of a nuisance in attacking midfield position. That said, Ajibade was a nuisance enough to win Nigeria a number of corner kicks yesterday with her buccaneering runs and attempted take ons.
Ajibade played her part in Nigeria’s exemplary passing accuracy stats yesterday. She combined well with Ordega and Onumanu with clever interplays. A neat and tidy pass to Onumonu in the first half caught the eye.
An attempted 1-2 with Onumonu in the second half was shortchanged by the centre forward who elected to shoot from distance rather than returning the pass to a now-better positioned Ajibade.
Ajibade remained a handful for the opposition defenders before being replaced in 75 minutes.
10, Francisca Ordega (5.5/10) put herself about and made her presence felt yesterday but the quality one would expect from her was produced in shoestrings.
She would vacate her position to go deep in midfield to try to make things happen. The drawback of this was that Nigeria became narrow in wide areas. An eloquently delivered backheel pass to onrushing Payne caught the eye and it introduced an element of flair (that is sorely lacking) to the Super Falcons' play.
She dribbled a defender inside the 18 yard box only to fall on her buttocks. A heavy touch from Ebi's ebullient headed knock down inside the opposition 18 yard box led to a missed opportunity.
She also executed a heavy touch after good work from Payne. A number of her passes hit the mark and she was unsuccessful with another take on later on.
Ordega's overall output was a bit hit-and-miss before being subbed off in 63 minutes but her work rate was exemplary.
11, Ifeoma Onumonu (7/10) powered Nigeria ahead with erudite positioning, deft first touch and crisp finish for Nigeria's first goal. Should could have either bagged herself additional goals or at least provided an assist but inadequate response time and questionable choices rubbed her of further glory.
She failed to connect with some promising long range passes, one of such from Ebi.
Her hold up play was acceptable at times but an overcooked return pass to Ajibade wasted a glorious opportunity. She was well positioned for a contact in one instance but her header was weak.
She did unleash a decent shot inside the 18 yard box in 66 minutes but the goalkeeper contained it. Instead of concluding a 1-2 routine with Ajibade, she elected for a lame shot that flashed aimlessly wide before bowing out in 82 minutes.
Her goal earned her high marks from me but could have done a lot more.
12, Coach Randy Waldrum (5/10) persisted with his 4-3-3 formation but with a midfield trio that lacked fluidity and creativity. That said, the selection of Ayinde proved to be a masterstroke with her defence splitting passes.
Although the Super Falcons were rugged, functional and serviceable before the substitutions were made, several aspects of their play – particularly in the earlier stages of the match – were problematic, wayward, off putting, lamentable and unwieldy.
Some of their passes were dealt with and cut off easily by Botswana; a throw-in and some set pieces were executed poorly; some misplaced passes ceded position; Ordega’s inward movements limited the team’s width; the Super Falcons didn’t win enough second balls; and their routines broke down needlessly too early.
They didn’t show enough chemistry and their domination didn’t translate to enough clearcut, unambiguous goals scoring opportunities.
However, a number of players like Ordega, Ajibade, Payne and Onumonu combined well.
Though their approach wasn’t visually appealing, the fact remains that the Super Falcons effectively curbed and largely neutralised Botswana.
Waldrum wins valuable brownie points in the second half as his substitutes were vibrant, vivacious and eloquent game changers. All of them were hungry to make an impression and stamp their authority on the match.
Renewed life was breathed into Nigeria’s midfield and rudimentary semblances of flair was injected by players like Ucheibe and Gift Monday.
In all, Waldrum does not seem to know his best starting 11 as the Super Falcons start to fire on all cylinders after substitutions. And, based on this performance, the Super Falcons are still a million miles away from being considered a credible team on the world stage.
13, Christie Ucheibe (7/10) was as busy as bee after coming on in 45 minutes. She attacked the 18 yard box like a hawk to leap and smash the back of the back of the net with an emphatic header for Nigeria’s second goal. She caused no end of mayhem for the opposition inside their 18 yard box afterwards. Her swivel and volley went high and wide but still caused excitement for us fans.
She was a breath of fresh air.
14, Gift Monday (6/10), coming in 63 minutes, hit the ground running with good positions and attacking intents after coming on. Her beautifully driven pass located Onumonu inside the 18 yard box. She also had a looping header dealt with by the goalkeeper.
She won fans over with her confidence and can-do attitude. She introduced verve and urgency to the Super Falcons play.
15, Regina Otu (5.5/10), introduced in 63 minutes, was always happy to receive passes in order to make things happen. She was a willing participant in the renewed vigour that the team enjoyed later on.
16, Uchenna Kanu (6/10), introduced in 75 minutes, provided much width to the left wing. Her take ons were acceptable, her touches were neat and her link up play was pristine.
She controlled an insane long distance long ball from goalkeeper Nnadozie with aplomb. She also had enough time to sting the goalkeeper’s palms with a shot in anger later on.
17, Chinoreyem Macleans (5/10), on from 83 minutes, will be hoping for more minutes to prove her mettle in subsequent matches. She slotted seamlessly to the team’s tactical constellation.
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