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All eyes on Odemwingie in survival fight

All eyes on Odemwingie in survival fight
June 21
09:22 2014

The Super Eagles arrived Cuiaba on the morning of June 19 in preparation for their make-or-break clash with Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday. There was a training session which journalists were allowed to watch the first 15 minutes only.

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It is not an exaggeration to attach importance to this match and going by the abject display against Iran in Curitiba, not many Nigerians are holding out hope of a win against the European side that lost narrowly to Argentina in their first match.

Two key decisions for the Nigerian technical crew centre on one person: Osaze Odemwingie. Should he start? And if he does, in what position?

Going into this World Cup, the Stoke City forward has been the in-form player of those in the squad – Ahmed Musa’s season had ended in late February or March, Emmanuel Emenike and Shola Ameobi were in and out of their clubs’ starting 11s while Victor Moses rarely got a start for a rampant Liverpool in England.

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Apart from his undoubted ability on the ball, Odemwingie is also the most experienced forward in the side at this level having been an international now for a decade at least. This is the time to release him, give him the licence to do what he knows to do best, while combining with Emenike.

The Bosnians had a game plan against Argentina to contain and hopefully score on the break but the own goal threw that plan away. Against Nigeria, they should be more open and expansive in their play. This could be a double edged sword – they could tear Nigeria apart with Miroslav Pjanic dictating the play and the underrated Edin Dzeko running amok. Or, their expansive nature might then play into Nigeria’s hands allowing the speed of the forwards to exploit the gaps that might appear in behind the midfield and in front of the defenders.

The Super Eagles have to play better than they did against Iran. No options really because a defeat here will guarantee an end to a World Cup campaign that promised so much but had delivered very little right from when the final squad list was announced.

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This is not a time to be cowardly in selection or tactics. Bravery will encourage the players and so it is important that a side that promises creativity and attacking intent is chosen. Stephen Keshi has battened down the hatches here and one can’t really get through to him outside of the usual press conferences – as expected for a man under intense pressure now – but he likes to play Mikel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi in his starting midfield. Always. When they are both fit and available.

For this match, he needs to release one of them to push further forward and join the furthest midfielder as Mikel did so well at the Confederations Cup last year. Then, the Chelsea midfielder could go forward knowing fully well that Fegor Ogude sat deep in front of his central defenders to protect from any counter attacks. Perhaps the time has come for Onazi to do same against Bosnia-Herzegovina so that Nigeria can at least have a chance of winning this match. A draw is of little use knowing it is Argentina in the next match.

The Nigerian midfield has to play quicker and pass the ball sharper into the forwards to maximise their strongest weapons of speed and power. There were too many square passes between Mikel and Onazi during the Iran match while the forwards were making runs in behind.

Feelers from the camp speak of deep unrest. Nothing unusual about that during Nigeria’s world cup campaigns truth be told. It is the duty of the coaches to harmonise the group for the task at hand and get Nigeria out of a truly easy group into the next round.

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These players owe it to themselves, their families and the whole nation to rise above petty squabbles and win matches playing acceptable standards of football. Anything less will not be acceptable.

1 Comment

  1. Igwe
    Igwe June 21, 21:29

    Whatever they do, from Keshi to the least favourite player in the team including the technical crew they must win this match. They have performed below average on the world stage where quality football is not negotiable.

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