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Lessons from Confederation cup

By Onochie Anibeze
Onochie, How I wish you are watching South Africa’s Bafana Bafana match and Spain. When will Nigeria’s Super Eagles play with this type of zeal and determination?

Again, I wish coach Amodu Shuaibu can learn about the current kick and rush football.
Thanks, Nwosu Marius.
Phone 08072157336.

I was considering what to write this week when the above message hit my phone. I had three issues in my mind – the 9-0 league scandal, Super Eagles next World Cup match  and the lessons from Confederations Cup. When Marius sent this text it helped me decide immediately. It camewhile the third place game between Spain and South Africa was going.

In his three-line text, Marius raised three issues. The tremendous improvement of the Bafana Bafana which fueled the tough encounter with Spain, the passion with which the two sides played and the current fast football which he likened to kick and rush.

The pace with which players now get the ball into opponents’ goal area apparently made Marius refer to what he saw as kick and rush.

He doesn’t see this character in our Eagles and felt like sharing his views with me. I totally agree with him even if I would not call what I saw of South Africa and Bafana kick and rush. In modern football, teams find the fastest routes to opponents goal area.

That’s why they play pressure football. They are very direct in attacking. Counter-attack is a major aspect of the modern game. We are still not good in this.  One- touch play makes for high mobility of players because if you touch the ball once, you must run into space and expect a pass.

This keeps the whole team moving as a unit. When you slow down the game, it will not be possible for you to play one-touch football. And there are three major reasons why players slow the game down. That they are not coached to be fast is one. Two is when they are lacking fitness.

The third could be tactical – where a team is facing another that they know have faster players and playing same way may be faulty or counterproductive. But in this aspect, there are areas of the field that you deliberately try to frustrate them, not in all areas because you need pace to create goals.

Marius must be one of those who wonder why Eagles pass the ball back many times even when they are not threatened. The one I can’t comprehend is when  they slow the game down on approaching opponents goal area. They do it every time.

It was glaring against Ireland in the May 29 friendly at Craven Cottage, London. When you slow the pace on approaching opponents’ goal area, you allow their defenders room to re-organise and defend well.

It is the worst thing I see in the Eagles today. The  back passes are getting too many. The quick touch on the ball needs to be improved.

The style of players who try to dribble or show skill especially when their colleagues are free and ready to go forward should no longer be encouraged. Brazil, known for their samba football right from the days of the great Pele, had to abandon some aspect of it to introduce speed and one-touch play to start winning again.

After the 1970 World Cup, Brazil suffered in the hands of Europeans who worked on their defence and attacking football. The result was that the world acclaimed best team in each World Cup never won the title.

Fans will never forget the skills displayed by the Brazilian teams to the Espana ‘82 and Mexico ‘86 World Cups. But they all lost to faster European sides. So, why are we trying to copy what the masters of the game have dropped?

And it is not that we are excellent in the display of skills. With all the tricks God blessed him with our own Jay Jay Okocha had to learn to be more direct in his approach before he could make impact.

We do not need anybody to tell us that our approach should be faster than it is at the moment. Watching great matches in Europe has sent the message which the Confederations Cup has confirmed. Marius is right. Amodu and his assistants have to put their feet down and lead the way.

They have to tell the players what they want.
They have to do it in training so that in match situations the players will find themselves doing what is right.

I say this because I have been around and I know the attitude of players when they are playing for the national team. Some of the things they cannot do in their European clubs they try to do here.

Eagles will definitely play better if they are faster on the ball. We saw the fast attack that created USA’s two goals against Brazil in the final. The one-touch play that lead to their first goal was stunning.

I admired Clint Dempsey’s simple but classic last touch that beat the Brazilian keeper for their first goal. Their second goal was similar. If Brazil was not direct enough in their attack, they would have found it difficult to cancel the two goals   what more winning.

There were things to learn from the Confederations Cup. Just as Marius wished I was watching I was tempted to think so of our Eagles. But I didn’t have to. Their profession is to play football. They train morning and evening and play matches. They ought to know.

And I think that many of them know but simply lack the attitude and character to be so effective.

That’s why the coaches have to enforce it or compel them to play simple and direct football. The more direct you are the more your opponents are likely to make mistakes.

Passing the ball back kills attack and doesn’t put pressure on opponents. A combination of short passes and long precise ones that necessitate fast breaks will always make a team look explosive. Confederations Cup proved that. I wish we could change. We have to.

The other lessons I hope we learned from the Confederations Cup are the importance of set pieces and the need to check attitudinal problems.  There are times teams are so balanced that only set pieces make the difference.

What with the semi-final between Brazil and South Africa. Bafana showed that they could mark, they showed that they could attack, they had the confidence to take on Brazil and they did.

Two or three minutes to full time,  Daniel Alves superbly converted a free kick that ended the match in favour of Brazil. That was the difference. And this is where African teams fall prey every time.

Two Bafana Bafana players were in front of the player fouled. There was no need for that foul. The player that committed the foul had no business thrusting his leg to do what he did.

And that ended their run. In the third place match, they led !-0 and in the dying minutes, they lost concentration in the area of marking, something they had done brilliantly until very late in the match when they cracked and the story changed. But it was a gallant effort and we are proud of them.

At USA ‘94, a Nigerian player collided with Sunday Oliseh and,  with annoyance,  he mistakenly flung a throw-in  ball direct to the opponents and that move led to Italy’s equaliser just three minutes to full time.

Emmanuel Amuneke’s goal had given Nigeria the lead. Uche Okechukwu and Chidid Nwanu were facing the Italian attacker that Austin Eguavoen mistakenly fouled.
The player couldn’t have done anything with that ball.

The penalty meant that Nigeria’s best team ever went out in the second round of a World Cup that they had the potential to get to the final. In 2005, two unnecessary tackles from behind gave Argentina a 2-0 victory courtesy deserved penalties in the World Youth Championship final  in Holland.

Senegal got to the quarter finals in the Korea-Japan World Cup and the players felt on top of the world when they were expected to work harder.

Some of them,  including their big star Elhadi Diof,  refused to join the rest in their last training.
Turkey eliminated them.

It appeared natural that they never got beyond that stage, not because they lacked the players but because of their attitude. It was typically African.

There’s something that fires the ego in us when we should keep our heads. I don’t know what that thing is. But for the crisis situation in our camp, the Eagles would have pumped more goals into the net of Italians in that USA ‘94 World Cup and Italy scoring a late goal would not have made any difference. It was so bad that,  in four days,  Eagles trained only once before facing Italy.

It’s very painful to recall that event. That’s why we must begin a campaign to change our football.  From our attitude to the game and  to facilities – training and match venues for our league – and to coaching and discipline of players.

We must begin to appreciate that set-pieces decide matches. Two out of the five goals in the Spain-South Africa matches were from set-pieces. It was same in the final match between USA and Brazil.

Our coaching aspect must address the issues of modern football. Organised defence and very fast attack especially when counter-attacking.

The midfield these days have what coaches call workers. Players mark so tightly and so collectively that ball carriers are rarely noticed if they are not working like others.

The marking they do now doesn’t give room for play makers to shine the way they did in the past. In just two years things have changed.

If, for example, Jay Jay Okocha quits retirement and returns to action as Adokiye Amiesimeka is clamouring for, his creativity will be appreciated but he definitely will no longer fit in as a ball carrier. He may not have room for that.

He will need to be faster in releasing the ball and will need to run more than he did before.

If he cannot mark, then he can’t fit in.  Another problem is that our players knew how Okocha was adored and they all want to play like him to please the fans. Unfortunately, they do not have the skills of Okocha.

Secondly, they appear not to respect the changes going on. Our coaches must make them change because they are not exactly so when playing for their clubs although I do not expect them to do exactly same thing because there are different attributes and different football cultures. Amodu, Daniel Amokachi, Alloy Agu and Fatai Amoo have a lot of work to do.

The points Marius raised are vital and key to our expectations if the Eagles will meet them.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.