By Onochie Anibeze
What can the Eagles do against Ivory Coast?
Can they close the space they usually leave between them, play compact game and break away when they gain possession? That’s my wish.
Can they be quicker on the ball and also make runs with or without the ball? That’s my wish.
Aside running into the central goal area of the opponents, can they make first post and second post runs that can create options for them in attempting to score? That’s my wish.
I wish that Keshi wins to keep his job and have a chance to correct the mistakes we have seen in this team
Can they try to go forward more than they have done in this tournament? Fegor Ogude will not play on Sunday due to card offences. I’ll not miss him. Who in the team can be creative in the midfield? I banked on Nosa Igiebor but his game dropped just before the Nations Cup.
He did not play well in the first match. Ogude was awful in the first and second matches but picked up a little bit in the third match. But he is not the ideal midfielder for Nigeria.
He neither creates nor marks well. He is not also a good passer of the ball. I really wonder how he made the team. Our slow pace is not good for modern football. Can we change it overnight? That’s my wish.
However, they can be faster in attacking opponents goal. Two or three days training with emphasis on pace and strategic counter attacks can make some difference. I wish Ejike Uzoenyi were fit. A fit Ejike could be a thorn in the defence of Ivory Coast with Emenike and Brown Ideye in the attack.
But who is the creative midfielder in our team? Who can turn things around? Who can impose his character in the game and inspire passion? I wish Eagles could play better free kicks. And I hope Ahmed Musa has played his last match for Nigeria in this tournament. I hope that the coaches will rest Ike Uche for the moment.
I wish the technical crew had a better left back than Elderson Echiejile. Where is Oshanuwa Ajuwon, the Sunshine Stars defender? I wish all could be fine with our Eagles in South Africa. I wish they agreed with Stephen Keshi and trained in Zimbabwe or any country that has warm weather now.
Did it make sense training in Faro, Portugal, during winter for a tournament that will hold in a warm weather? Those who picked Faro are among those wondering why Eagles tire out in the second half of matches. Lord have mercy. And right there in South Africa, they are pondering over the engagement of a foreign coach, upsetting and distracting the technical crew.
Can that be done after the games if they so desire? And will they not go for another Berti Vogts or Laggerback who never helped us? Since Westerhof left, they have never gotten it right with foreign coaches.
Well, the matter of the moment is the Nations Cup quarter final match against star-studded Ivory Coast on Sunday. Ivory Coast are favoured to win the cup. The quality of their stars can make anyone bet on them. They have also shown what they are capable of doing with the way they stamped authority in the group matches. While they powered their way through, Eagles struggled till the last moment. In football, this doesn’t matter. A team can struggle from the beginning to the end and even emerge champions. They could be lucky. But against a quality team like Ivory Coast you need more than luck to upstage them. Last year, Zambia had luck. But they also had unbelievable fighting spirit.
Fabio Nicolini is an Italian who was in the junior team of AC Milan when he was young. He is a friend of Kojo Williams, one-time NFA chairman who many would agree understands the dynamics of modern football. I was with them when Nigeria drew with Zambia. We watched the match together.
Before Fabio joined us, Kojo and I had pointed out some flaws that Fabio easily noticed when he came. Like minds. Fabio did not understand why the players were not moving as a unit and too far away from each other. This didn’t help their ball possession. He also noticed that heir attacking runs lacked some basics. At a time he said that they lacked the ABCD of football.
Nigeria’s coach, Stephen Keshi has always said that the Eagles were a work in progress and that he needed about five years to produce a formidable team. The referee robbed them against Zambia. What he called as a foul was not one and it was not even inside the 18 yard box. And he was close to the action area.
But were Eagles doing well before that call? And did they do well against Ethiopia? I’m talking about performance and not result. The result was 2-0 and it was good. Our own Sunday Oliseh admitted on Super Sport Cable Station, that aside the two deserved penalties we didn’t make enough attempts at goal.
I agree with him. I agree with Kojo that, on paper, they don’t have the team to beat Ivory Coast with Yaya Toure and Kolo Toure of Manchester City, Emmanuel Ebue, Didier Drogba, Didier Zakora, Romanic, Gervinho of Asernal, Ismael Traore and Boubabar Barry of Lokeren. Solid squad on paper and on the field. Many Nigerians have written the Eagles off.
They have a good reason to do so. Going by what we have seen of the two teams, they have their reason. I will put mine this way. Going by the strength and character of the two teams, it will be normal for Ivory Coast to win and a surprise if Nigeria wins. Surprises happen in football, otherwise Zambia would not have emerged champions last year.
As an unbiased football analyst, Ivory Coast will party on Sunday. But as a patriotic and hopeful Nigerian I bank on the surprise element in football. I wish that Keshi wins to keep his job and have a chance to correct the mistakes we have seen in this team.
I wish that our coaches could find their ways to Europe to acquire more knowledge and help our football. I wish those in charge could have the capacity to go for a hungry and hardworking foreign coach if they so decide.
But I sincerely wish Keshi could continue for he has shown the direction he is headed. It will take a while to repair the damage done to our football. Kojo feels that Keshi could remain the boss but an assistant from Holland or East Europe is needed to add pace and flair to the Nigerian game. Kojo also wishes that about ten Nigerian coaches find their ways to Europe for courses and attachments to big clubs there.
These coaches will them be assigned to Under 14, Under 17, Under 20, Olympic team and the Eagles. “Then we can have a good football culture,” he says.
For now, what happens if the Eagles surprisingly eliminate Ivory Coast on Sunday? That’s my wish.