USA 2 : 0 Nigeria : Was This A Respectable Scoreline For The Super Falcons?
Damage limitation appeared to have been the strategy of coach Randy Waldrum after being helpless to watch his Super Falcons tutored side lose 2:0 to his home country USA in the early hours of this morning.
I think the American gaffer was well aware of the frightening potential of the USA as well as the defensive frailties of Nigeria which informed his tactics for this match.
Nigeria played five (with even striker Toni Payne playing as right fullback) at the back and sat deep to soak American pressure before attempting to hit them on counter attacking manoeuvres. And this approach worked for large parts and actually accounted for how late in both halves the Americans nicked their goals.
For those conversant with the approach of coach Simeone at Atletico Madrid, they will know that this approach requires pristine focus, statima, concentration, attention to position, defensive solidity and sharpness in front when counter attacking.
Goalkeeper Tochukwu Oluehi was playing out of her skin as she pulled off a string of world class saves throughout the encounter. But Nigeria's defence showed lapses which had been the achilles heel of the team thus far in the tournament.
In a defensive wall of five, Christine Press still found herself unmarked around Nigeria's 18 yard box before curling a beauty past the lively but hapless Oluehi. This, following sloppiness from defender Glory Ogbonna which more or less gifted the Americans a goal in the dying embers of the first half.
If I want to be over-critical, I will say the Super Falcons showed America too much respect. They stayed way too deep so much so that when they did make incursions into America's final third, they had neither the numbers nor the composure to make any dent.
Oshoala, Payne and Ordega all barked sporadically but lacked the bite to perforate the Americans.
In the middle, you could see what Ijeoma Okoronkwo was trying to do: maintain possession, dictate the tempo and hold the ball long enough for Nigeria to flood bodies forward. But the Americans crowded her out in midfield and kept possession far too long for her plans to manifest.
In truth, the Falcons showed more attacking intent in the second half but were repelled by a disciplined America showing why they are world champions and number one in FIFA rankings.
And has been seen so often in international football, the extra quality of the Americans will show after their 94th minute goal gave them a comfortable 2 goals lead (following another questionable defending by Nigeria).
In a way, Waldrum achieved his aim: Nigeria weren't walloped by the Americans. But in truth, USA could still have gone up a gear or two if they wanted while Nigeria gave it all they've got (based on how Waldrum set them up).
In all, the Falcons need ball playing midfielders, they need composure in front of goal, they need to be comfortable in possession and alert off the ball for this strategy to work next time.
Conclusively, they did their best and can be content with lessons learnt from this tournament. Hopefully build on these for the future.