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Nigeria suffered from a poor World Cup squad

Nigeria suffered from a poor World Cup squad
July 12
21:56 2014

Germany and Argentina will contest the 2014 World Cup final at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium in Brazil. By getting there they have shown they have been the best two sides at the tournament.

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Nigeria played Argentina in the group stage and could easily have gotten a point from the match. However, since then the paths of both countries’ football have diverted. As I write, Nigeria is banned from football activities worldwide by FIFA. A result of the Football Federation’s Board being dissolved by a court order which is totally against the FIFA Statutes – a matter for another day perhaps.

When Coach Stephen Keshi released his 23 man squad for the world cup many were shocked by the team he chose and those he left out. I was one of the shocked people but I believed that the coach who chooses the players to take into battle deserved the benefit of the doubt especially a tournament winning coach too. It really makes no difference if the tournament he won was the AFCON, because it is not easy to win ANY international tournament.

I have been back from Brazil for a week, I have settled down emotionally and physically all the while running through my head and mind how the team performed in their matches and what we might have done differently. I have to add this caveat all the time – there is nothing in my experience of football that makes me anywhere as capable in matters of football as a national team manager as experienced as Stephen Keshi.

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In my interview with the coach after the tournament he said he had no regrets in the squad he chose. He was only sad he was not able to call upon the services of the injured pair of Leon Balogun and Bright Dike. That squad might have been served better with the presence of Nosa Igiebor, John Ogu and maybe Sone Aluko.

When going for a tournament it is extremely important that a squad is strong and that subs are almost as good as those on the bench. Nigeria folded badly as soon as Ogenyi Onazi was injured and went off against France while before that, the absence of the injured Michael Babatunde had denied the team of a rapier-like thrust in possession higher up the field.

The times Michael Uchebo and Reuben Gabriel came on during matches they showed they did not belong at this level at all. Only Shola Ameobi’s introduction in the match against Bosnia-Herzegovina was worthy of it, the former Newcastle man showing composure needed as he helped protect the lead.

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The form or lack of it of John Obi Mikel and the fact that he started and completed every match was another testament to the paucity of quality on the bench to take the place of the Chelsea man.  The lack of quality in the creative area of the midfield was a major factor in the way the team played and contributed to the lack of cutting thrust despite huge territorial advantage against France. John Ogu and Sone Aluko – both left footed –  would have offered more if they had made the squad I believe from my position as one who has watched these players and the team.

A lot of people are of the opinion that Ike Uche the Villareal of Spain striker would have made a difference but I strongly disagree. The team’s tactics was such that there had to be one central striker in Emmanuel Emenike with wide forwards either side of him. Uche is not able to play that Emenike’s role so his presence in the squad would have made little difference. What the team suffered from was a chronic lack of creativity centrally – from the midfield – and a poverty of crossing from the wide areas. It tells the story when the striker Emenike had two assists out of the three goals the team scored in four matches.

Tactically, the width was supposed to be provided by the full backs but unfortunately Efe Ambrose, one of the most comfortable full backs on the ball, is a truly atrocious crosser of a football. Many times the team’s shape sprung him free on the right but he never delivered a good ball. Juwon Oshinawa on the left was only marginally better, both full backs were also not helped by a lack of numbers breaking into the box as crosses are attempted.

Could the team have played better? Not sure they could have with the squad composition. Some have criticised the coach for being one dimensional in how his team plays. That is a criticism that can labelled at almost every football coach at every level. My reading of the way Keshi sets his teams up is that he is a cautious coach first. More like the Brazil side of 1994 but he had no Romario or Bebeto in his team to win him tight matches.

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It was not all doom and gloom. Keeper Vincent Enyeama enhanced his reputation with his performances with superb saves and generally commanding his area. His mistake for the first goal for France is absolutely forgivable.

Skipper Joseph Yobo, came on against Iran to replace the stricken Godfrey Oboabona, rolling back the years such that even when Oboabona got fit, he kept his place. He was clearly unfortunate for the own goal on his last appearance for the national team, but his tournament was much better than that. Young Kenneth Omeruo alongside Yobo showed Nigerians that we have a defender to last the country another decade if he stays fit. He was fantastic and will only get better. The entire back four played well.

Michael Babatunde justified the coach’s confidence in him with his play and was badly missed against France. Nigeria’s player of the tournament was Ogenyi Onazi and if he continues in this form the captain’s arm band can’t be too far away. He was everywhere and showed tremendous work rate and appetite for the game that shamed some of his team mates.  Notable mentions to Emenike for his work rate, Osaze Odemwingie for his goal against Bosnia and Ahmed Musa for his form against Argentina.

There have been many disappointed with the team overall but many of these people have not the fullest idea what it takes to prepare for a major tournament like the FIFA World Cup. This Nigerian team lacked a lot in terms of the backroom staff and infrastructure compared to most of the other countries. I have been working on a report where I have been interviewing other FAs and ex internationals of Nigeria and other countries which I will bring out here in a couple of weeks. Maybe, we just might me realise that Nigerian football is really not where it should be and that these players and coaches swim against the tide.

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