It is very difficult to pick holes in the actions or selections of a title-winning coach. It even seems more foolish when one considers or remembers how this coach and his charges have made pundits eat humble pie in the past.
At the final whistle of the friendly international between the Super Eagles and the United States on Saturday, some Nigerians will be grateful that it was only a friendly. So poor was the performance of the team that it is tough to find redeeming features or positives. It was a friendly though, I have to say that again.
The defence: As strange as it might appear, one cannot fault the defence so much in the overall analysis. Juwon Oshinawa who replaced the stricken Elderson Echiejile acquitted himself reasonably well. He had very little to be ashamed of.
When the 30-man list was announced many neutral observers were unequivocal in believing that Joseph Yobo’s time in the heart of the Super Eagles defence was and should be over. The skipper was laboured in the friendly against Scotland; he was very poor against the US. His wretched attempt to halt Jozy Altidore in the lead-up to the striker scoring the second goal was embarrassing when one remembers how solid he has been in the past.
The midfield: This department failed the team badly in the whole match. In the first half, John Mikel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi managed to work out the right shape to afford the defence good enough protection. However, offensively they were laboured. Mikel particularly looked quite lackadaisical in possession and slowed down the speed of play. The US were able to shut down the avenues of progress as a result while the speed of Victor Moses and Osaze Odemwingie was not utilised.
For the first US goal, Onazi was guilty of dereliction of duty when he failed to track the run of Clint Dempsey. As soon as that ball went in behind the Lazio midfielder and was latched onto by Dempsey, it was going to require luck or some heroic defending or goal-keeping to avoid giving up a goal. Joseph Yobo was not at fault as he had made a choice to block a cut-back but Dempsey had the time to pass square for Altidore to walk it in.
The position and style of Mikel is extremely vital to how this team fares in Brazil. Against the US, he seemed uninterested and made things worse by not tracking back and also stopping to berate his team mates while the opponents were breaking on the team. Shocking show of unprofessionalism. But it was only a friendly.
Clearly, there is no one in the squad that can make that attacking midfield role up to now. Ramon Azeez seemed overwhelmed in the first half and was not helped by Mikel playing or coming into his space. Uchebo Okechukwu who came on the second half was no better.
The midfielders were particularly shocking in the second half. The duo of Onazi and Gabriel Reuben showed such poor tactical awareness, one was left scratching the head and wondering if these two players are not based abroad. They both played ahead of the ball, providing very little protection for the back four. Actually scratch that – they provided no protection whatsoever! They played in straight lines with no one taking the right decision to sit in front of the back four as the holding midfielder.
The attack: As pointed out earlier, needless dithering in midfield meant that the speed of wide forwards were never properly used. With Shola Ameobi as the lone forward, he offers good hold-up play but needs an attacking midfielder to get close to him and the ball passed into him quickly.
Victor Moses might infuriate because he seems to hold onto the ball that bit too long. However, the Chelsea forward has an incredible desire to win, a fighting spirit and bravery that this team will need at the World Cup. With Emmanuel Emenike ahead of him or even Uche Nwofor, the team will get more out of the winger that happened with Ameobi.
Moses’ determination in tandem with Emenike got the penalty that the former coolly slotted in. Their link-up gives hope that when it is for real, the players to get Nigeria that elusive win at a World Cup since 1998!
One of the players in the final 23 that has caused great consternation was Michael Babatunde. He looked so out of his depth in this match, and overwhelmed by the enormity of playing for Nigeria. One struggles to see what he is most likely to bring to team.
With Ahmed Musa carrying an injury, a position needs to be found for Osaze Odemwingie. The Stoke City forward is a natural centre-forward, has plenty of speed, cracking shot with either foot, can dribble and has superb first touches. He has to be played right. He was let down by his midfielders in the first half but one knows he is a match winner and can produce.
Summary: The current squad is not deep in terms of talent and there are at least three players in the team who sincerely should not be there. Reuben Gabriel, Michael Babatunde and Uchebo Okechukwu are not good enough to represent Nigeria at the World Cup.
Nosa Igiebor, John Ogu and Nnamdi Oduamadi would have been better in my analysis of the players that were available for the team. Stephen Keshi obviously knows better as the team coach and chose the players to go and those to stay.
As a team, right from the AFCON winning period, there seems to be no clear defined play on corner kicks and free-kicks. It is absolutely careless when one considers how vital these set-pieces are in the modern game.
Sources told TheCabvle that Kenneth Omeruo is struggling to make the Iran match on June 16, which is scary after watching Yobo’s horror shows lately. Azubuike Egwuekwe is a natural centre back and his height will be crucial in a defence that is quite physically small.
This team will have to play much better in the opening match against Iran. They can.