By Onochie Anibeze
I received many messages especially in the first half of the game.
Nigerians could not understand what was happening. Three of the messages were similar as if the senders rehearsed them. They were apt questions. “What’s happening?”, one read. Next was “What’s going on?” Another said “it will be miraculous if we survive this.”
Our sports editor, Tony Ubani called and the first thing he said was “what’s happening to our team?”. We went into a long discussion trying to analyse the game. Shortly after, it was with our deputy editor, Eze Anaba who was already furious, almost cursing.
Nigerians will not forget last Sunday in a hurry. No team, in recent years, had tormented our Eagles the way Ethiopia did in the first half. They made us look so ordinary. Their passing game was superb. They made their fans happy and made us apprehensive here in Nigeria. But we laughed last.
In my last column, I said that Ethiopians would be Africa’s champions if they could shoot. No team in Africa can play the passing game the way they do. They easily open up the defence of many teams but they lack finishers to make hay. When Nigerians wrote Ethiopia off after the draws I was worried. Now they know how lucky we were in Addis Ababa last Sunday.
The story might not have been the same if their first goal was allowed. And thank God for the resilience of Emmanuel Emenike. Thank God Stephen Keshi pulled out Victor Moses and Nnamdi Oduamadi. With time, Keshi will get to know more about the character and qualities of his players and when and where to use them. If I would play Mikel Obi, I would make sure I have two workers in the midfield because Mikel doesn’t mark well.
He shields but you cannot describe him as a ball winner. And going by his position winning ball should be his first responsibility. Ogenyi Onazi marks but he likes going forward all the time. He was everywhere in Addis Ababa. He was outstanding and almost killed himself trying to cover up for everybody in the midfield. Oduamadi, the support striker, was not dropping deep to help in marking and he is not a player I would field in the same team with Mikel and Moses.
In modern football you cannot afford to have two or three players who don’t exhibit strong character in marking, no matter what they do when in possession. It is possible to have one who has exceptional attacking qualities but not two or three in a match. You will always suffer it. It was part of the problem in Ethiopia but Keshi corrected it with the changes. Oduamadi was not in the game, Moses was battling with the weather.
He did well falling back but whenever he did so he remained there. When he moved up he also remained there. Mikel was not marking well and a lot fell on Onazi who played as if he was possessed. Onazi held the game for Nigeria while Emenike won it for us through individual brilliance.
He bulldozed his way before unleashing a canon to equalize and was pulled down in a run towards the goal for the penalty he converted. And with that away victory, Nigeria can be said to be coasting to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. Yes, you can say that again and again. I say this for two major reasons, one being the away victory but the more important one is that Ethiopia lack finishing.
They pass the ball well but they don’t shoot well. And on that basis, I have started popping up my own champagne. But I must not say same to the players and coaches. They must work hard for the second leg, seal it up and prepare well for the World Cup.
And before we get to Brazil, Keshi must be bold to take some brilliant and courageous steps to make his team stronger. We have the potential to shine in Brazil but we must appreciate our shortcomings and correct them.
Eagles are still awful in set pieces. It is amazing how elementary many of their set pieces are. It didn’t start now. And why they have not changed is the surprise to me. I have written on this before and will not stop until I see something good.
Our corner kicks and free kicks are poor, so poor that you cannot imagine they are from professional players. The next thing is to thoroughly evaluate our midfield. Something has to be done about the combination there. Who plays with Mikel? Who will work while Mikel plays his Celence football. Is he too big to be changed when he is not doing well? Have they told him to be quicker with the ball?
The first step should even be on who mans the goal posts. Is it not high time we gave a chance to Austin Ejide? Ike Shorunmi, the goalkeeper trainer and other assistant coaches once preferred Austin but for certain reasons Keshi stuck to Vincent Enyama, who has done well but who has also shown that we are making mistake by not fielding another person from time to time.
Against European countries who are good with crosses, Enyeama would likely have problems in the World Cup. What with the cheap cross he allowed in on Sunday?
The attack is another area. What happens to Nigeria when Emenike is not playing? Remember the Confederation Cup? We need another good striker to complement what Emenike is doing. Between now and next summer in Brazil, Keshi should be able to make a thorough assessment of his team, make the additions and subtractions that should make his team a stronger one that can face the world and not return after the first round.
I’m sure that we have the potential to go far in Brazil if Keshi is bold enough to take these courageous steps. He has no choice for I know that something can happen with this team in Brazil. Mark my words today. African football is different and difficult. With good preparation, one that make the boys train three times a day if possible, they can go places.
In Africa, the football federations play a big role in helping their teams qualify for major events like the World Cup. In the main event, it will be just the players and their coaches doing their thing in the field. I wish Keshi and his team luck. Luck has always been on the side of Keshi.
It must not elude him in Brazil. Yes, we are in Brazil, although there’s a stop-over in Calabar as Paul Bassey will put it. Congratulations the Super Eagles of Nigeria.