By Onochie Anibeze
I was in Liberia and I saw the Eagles play 2-2 with the Lone Star in Monrovia. When I watch a game I celebrate goals but I lay emphasis on performance. I try to analyse the performance of the players individually and as a team.
That’s why, even in lost or drawn games, my question to those who watched it is always ‘but did they play well?’
You can play well and still not win a match. A team may play badly and still win. Performance matters especially to professionals like coaches.
And in Monrovia the Liberians didn’t strike me as a great side. They were, however, highly motivated and they fought more than they played.
It is all in the game. But it had to be so because Eagles could not lift their game. Liberia looked easily beatable after Eagles equalised and took a 2-1 lead.
A match that Eagles had the chances to win with a margin of up to 4-1 or more ended 2-2. And towards the end, Liberia so dominated that Nigeria were even lucky to have gotten the draw.
What a drama. Victor Moses plays good games in the Premier League but that day he did things only he understood. He was selfish.
Two to three times his teammates ran into space to possibly make hay but he chose to continue running with the ball and ended up running around himself and losing the ball on those occasions.
Emmanuel Emenike also plays good matches for Spartak Moscow but that day he was awful. But he did not surprise me. He was so under Samson Siasia. Emenike would see a pack of opponents and rather than try to avoid them and play simple football he would prefer to pass through the crowd.
Each time he did so he lost possession. But he refused to change. He kept on doing the same thing and still losing the ball. That appeared foolish. He did not believe in passing the ball quickly to his teammates.
And two times he missed one-on-one with the keeper. Moses was pulled out but I was surprised he lasted long on the field. I was shocked that Emenike lasted the 90 minutes. And what with Obiorah Nwankwo?.
He always tries to play a Mikel Obi on the field. If he is not moving to the side when he has space to attack in front, he is turning back and killing the pace of the game. He did so in Monrovia and has shown that he lacks the quality to play at top level for now.
Modern football is about going forward and putting pressure on opponents. Modern football is pressure football. That’s why attackers mark as hard as defenders. They don’t allow defenders to build and organise from the rear.
How I wish Eagles watched how Seville beat Real Madrid two weeks ago. They marked more in Real’s area and made life miserable for the Spanish champions. Ike Uche finds it difficult to mark.
He finds it difficult to fall back to mark and I wonder if he is not in Europe. By not returning deep he creates space for opponents to use. If he refuses to play to instruction then the coaches must do something about it.
Those who play from the wings fail to fall deep too and this leaves only two players in the midfield. Ejike Ozoenyi and Ahmed Musa rarely come into the middle.
The fact that Ike Uche, the support striker, does not fall deep to help and the fact that two players who man the right and left sides of the midfield stay on the wings and the fact that repeated sessions to make them change and adapt well to the system that Keshi has been playing has not been effective, I strongly call on the coach to change his tactical approach and specifically assign three or more players to the midfield.
It’s time to change especially now that Mikel Obi will play. And as Mikel will play Eagles certainly need a strong defensive midfielder who can work hard to mark and cover up while Mikel will distribute balls. He is a good passer of the ball but he must develop confidence to go forward and make attempts at goal when necessary.
If Gabriel Ruben is now fit and he plays with Mikel as defensive midfielders with one attacking midfielder in front of them and behind two or three attackers Liberia will fall with ease in Calabar especially if Emenike will prefer wisdom to foolery and if Ike Uche tries to be professional and respect the basic tactic of falling back when possession is lost. However, I think that Eagles need Victor Anichebe of Everton. He is strong and runs with power. Emenike is also strong and runs with power. But he should make more use of brain than brawl.
Having said this much, I think it’s also time for Austin Ejide to man the post for Nigeria. After the failure of Dele Ayenugba in the qualifier against Guinea in Abuja, Ejide kept the goal in London against Ghana in an international friendly and showed the stuff that made Berti Vogts clearly choose him as Eagles first choice keeper in the Nations Cup in Ghana.
There’s an end to every time and a time for everybody in sports and other fields. This is the time for Ejide or even Chigozie Agbim. For the sake of experience and regularity in club football I will prefer Ejide to any of the keepers in Eagles now.
This is time for change. This is the time for the team to play collectively in all departments and show good performance even if the margin of victory is not wide. It’s time for Nigerians to begin to have a faint picture of what they can do in South Africa during the Nations Cup.
But it must be said here that a good picture will only suffice after a two or three week camping before a major competition and not the four or three days available during the qualifiers.
This is time for more support to the team and the technical crew. The coaches have not failed and there’s absolutely no reason to call for foreign coaches now. We have had many them and they all failed except Clemens Westerhof who should be contacted for the job of Technical Director if the federation is still interested in keeping that office.
It’s time for the federation to push the coaches to watch more league matches at home and abroad to avoid the invitation of 38 players for a few days camping.
If the coaches were absolutely sure of the players they were inviting that number would not be justifiable. But so far the coaches are doing a good job and should be supported by all.