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[ANALYSIS] Keshi’s brave calls save the day

[ANALYSIS] Keshi’s brave calls save the day
June 22
07:00 2014

The setting was actually simple: defeat Bosnia-Herzegovina and keep your team’s World Cup hopes alive. Any other outcome and the team might as well start making bookings for return flights out of Brazil. Osaze Odemwingie, strongly aided by the sheer brute force that is Emmanuel Emenike, scored what proved to be the winning goal.

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As one who is old enough to remember the swashbuckling teams that Clemens Westerhof built over a five-year period, which Bonfere Jo worked with from 1996 and into Afcon 2000, I want to finally acknowledge that the penny has dropped with regards to the team Stephen Keshi has been building over the past 18 months. Will come back to that later.

Stephen Keshi made some bold calls in his final 23-man squad and for this match against Bosnia, he made a few more.

Vincent Enyeama in goal was once again called upon to make two fantastic saves ─ one in each half ─ to keep Nigeria in front. He has never let the team down.

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The Defence: Skipper Joseph Yobo rolled back the years, as he marshalled his young colleagues around him while Kenneth Omeruo gave the biggest indications yet that he will be ready to challenge for a starting place at the heart of the Chelsea defence next season in the Premier League.

The defence played exceptionally well considering that yet again, they did not get the protection that the system chosen for the team should have been giving to them by the central midfielders, Ogenyi Onazi and John Mikel Obi.

The Midfield: It is about time a spade was called a spade. Mikel’s performances for the national team especially in the area of working very hard, tackling and winning back possession are nothing short of abysmal. When one considers how hard he works at Chelsea, what he does for the Super Eagles is close to treachery! Many times as Bosnia attacked he just walked back as casually as he would have been on a summer evening down the Kings Road in London. It is quite difficult to reconcile the attitudinal changes in his game for club and country.

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The problem role for this team has been the third midfielder ahead of Mikel and Onazi. For this game, Keshi dropped Victor Moses and Ramon Azeez, preferring to put Michael Babatunde in that role. He played very well. Has very good technique and trickery as well as being able to go past the first defender thereby creating time and space for his forwards to make their moves. He has done well enough to keep his starting place if fit for the final group game.

The Attack: In the preview of the game, the call was for Osaze Odemwingie to be given a start and he was – pushed further afield as one of the three forwards. His goal apart, he did exceptionally well in that he protected Efe Ambrose at right-back as Nigeria defended. He was also always a threat when the team went forward.

Emmanuel Emenike led the line brilliantly and was a battering ram all through the match, giving chase to lost causes, making himself a target for his midfielders with intelligent runs into the channels. He forced Asmir Begovic into a couple of important saves with stinging drives as Nigeria broke.

Ahmed Musa, the third forward, was as willing a runner as one has come to expect from the Super Eagles of Keshi. He had the Bosnian back three on toast with his speed off the mark – they could not live with him. However, he was always let down by his final ball or woeful attempts at a finish.

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The introduction of Shola Ameobi for Musa was another good tactical move by Keshi. The former Newcastle United man went into that third attacking midfield role. Babatunde moved wide left so that Ameobi could hold the ball up well, using his experience and composure in there to keep things ticking over. He did it well enough and Nigeria was able to get upfield.

Once Musa was taking off corner kick taking duties by Babatunde and Odemwingie, the deliveries got better than they were in the previous game with Iran. The corner kicks were not the only thing better, the overall team play was better than against Iran. Having said that, following Argentina’s struggles against the very same Iran, maybe the Nigerian team were not as bad as many concluded.

Finally, that dropped penny: anyone watching Nigeria under Keshi should forget the Nigerian sides he played for. Keshi builds a SOLID team first and not the spectacular sides he played in back in 1990 to 1994 under Westerhof. When this is accepted, results and stats collated, it will be so clear that Keshi is actually very good at his job.

A point against Argentina and this team that is less than 24 months in construction would be equaling ALL the records set by their more crowed-about predecessors of 1994-2000.

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4 Comments

  1. IE
    IE June 22, 13:08

    Mikel has no right to be in that team. The earlier Keshi puts him on the bench for a fast, creative central midfielder with a high work-ethic…the better for Super Eagles.

    Reply to this comment
    • Igbo Amadi-Obi
      Igbo Amadi-Obi June 22, 14:33

      And who might that be? We already know all the midfielders in the team. Mikel has been a defensive midfielder all his career, but we insist on making him play an attacking role. And when he fails we complain.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Igbo Amadi-Obi
    Igbo Amadi-Obi June 22, 14:21

    I have no doubt that it was an improved performance from the game against Iran. Yet I’m reluctant to heap praises on Keshi just yet, or to begin to compare this with the Westerhoff team. That would be too generous yet. Without meaning to get granular, I cannot see this team’s equivalent of Okocha, Oliseh, Finidi or Amuneke. And the defence definite doesn’t give you the confidence that Chidi Nwanu and Uche Okechukwu gave ever so often. The Westerhoff team would have been several goals up in the first half, for instance. Largely. we had a disallowed Bosnia goal and a last-minute save against the upright by Enyeama to thank for remaining in contention. As much as it was an improved performance from Iran, I do not agree with the suggestion that Argentina’s performance against Iran justifies our dismal play of last Monday. Not only did we fail to score Iran, we failed to create opportunities (unlike Argentina), and we failed at basic things like passing the ball and controlling the ball. Again, unlike Argentina. It was a poor showing, and Argentina needing the Messi magic to beat Iran doesn’t make our performance good all so suddenly. Last night I saw enough to begin to be hopeful, even as I caution that we must resist the temptation to be generous with passmarks, both for Keshi and the players.

    And by the way, Keshi took over this team shortly after Siasia was fired for failing to qualify us for Gabon 2012 CAN. That’s nearly 3 years, rather than 18 months as claimed by the writer.

    Reply to this comment
    • Benado
      Benado June 23, 13:05

      Very correct and on point with your analysis of the whole comprising the players and the coaching crew. For Mikel I believe he could do better even if played as a playmaker than as a defensive midfielder. He started as a play maker before he was signed by Chelsea and Jose Murinho decided to be using as a defensive midfielder which negatively impacted his game. Putting him on the bench might ask as a wake up call. Who to play his position. You can use Osaze.

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