Onochie Anibeze
That Nigerian players are blessed with technique is never in doubt. In fact, their technical abilities marvel Europeans and other football nations. They are usually likened to those of Brazil, the kings of the game of soccer.

Ali Zitouni, left, of Tunisia and Taya Taiwo of Nigeria challenge for the ball during their World Cup group B qualifying soccer match in Tunis, Saturday, June 20, 2009,at olympic Rades stadium in Tunisia.(AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

Players’ ability to display some tricks with the ball largely determines their technical prowess. And Nigerians are talented in this art. But the tactical aspect of their game has always fallen below expectation and that’s precisely why their teams, sometimes, lose to teams less endowed in technique.

A team is said to have tactical discipline if their players adhere well to the tactics that can earn them victories, not the number of times, their players dance around with the ball, flip it over their heads and dribble opponents without precise passes and accuracy in shootings that can lead to goals. Poor tactics have always been the bane of African players. The problem is more pronounced in Nigeria.

While the coaches and players take responsibility for this shortfall, the system that doesn’t emphasize the importance of tactical discipline from youth football is more to blame.

Nigerian teams lack tactics. Even when the coaches come up with an ideas, the players find it difficult to execute them. This is because they rarely went through it at their youth level. Rarely, too, do our coaches draw on boards the formations and runs players are expected to make. They pass instructions verbally where illustrations will be better captured by the players. But there are a few coaches who are now schooled in this art even if they have not perfected it.

Yet, the Europeans and football nations start this even from the kindergarten level and by the time they are playing at senior level, it becomes part of them.  Setting up of quality football academies can ameliorate this problem. But going by what happened when the Eagles played Tunisia in a 2010 World Cup qualifier at the Rades Stadium in Tunisia, June 20, Daniel Amokachi, the assistant coach of the team, now feels that things are beginning to change.

“People may not understand what happened in Tunisia. It was a highly tactical game. The training was very tactical and the execution on match day was fairly good,” Amokachi said in a chat.

“We beat Kenya 3-0 here in Abuja but we drew in Tunisia. But we played better in the drawn match. The tactics were better and the players tried to do what we wanted them to do. It wasn’t perfect but fairly good. What we did tactically may not be appreciated until after the qualification when we would all look back to review the journey. We were very careful. We knew what Tunisia would be up, their fast game, their tricks etc. They know how to fall professionally and earn penalties or free kicks. We all avoided them.

And we told the players how to attack, how to defend. They followed instructions and we returned with a point. If it was perfect, we would have won. I think that if our tactical aspect of the game continues to grow we’ll be a great football country. Watch out for the match in Abuja. It will be different. If the boys can keep 65 per cent of the tactics the fans will have something to cheer. We are taking tactics seriously and we hope to get better.”

Spokesman of the team Idah Peterside first spoke on the tactics the team adopted in Tunisia and said “the match was highly tactical and that earned us the draw.”

He further said that “if Kalu Uche had clicked a little bit, we would have won the match. He did his best but couldn’t do exactly what was expected of him. The Tunisians knew that it would be difficult for them to qualify.

It was on their faces after the match. They expected us to attack massively knowing that we needed a victory. They were waiting for us to go all out so that they could launch counters that we might not have survived. It didn’t work for them because of the way we played. Abuja will be different. Watch out.”


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