Nigeria have won yet another top grade friendly as the clock ticks with the World Cup approaching, but there were plenty of head-scratching and sceptic exegesis after their second successive friendly win in Europe on Friday night.
The Super Eagles edged their first ever fixture against Poland 1-0 at a raucous Stadion Slaski in Wroclaw courtesy of Victor Moses’ second half penalty and despite the criticisms that trailed the less convincing win (a win is a win anyways), there were enough positives in these five takeaways from the game.
It is always refreshing to see the game again to confirm and reconfirm what was noticed in the heat of the friendly fixture and that, has helped again.
First twenty-five minutes is the way
The Super Eagles looked set to reenact their tactical masterclass against Cameroon in Yaounde last September by the way they set up in their 4-4-2 formation on the soggy Wroclaw pitch.
Apart from the moment Victor Moses lost his man in the 8th minute, resulting in Lewandowski’s effort coming off the post; the Eagles maintained a disciplined, impregnable shape which should really be the way going forward.
Take nothing away from the quality Nigeria’s group stage opponents in Russia possess, such tactical shape as maintained before a barrage of set-pieces unsettled the team should be the way to go; given Nigeria’s ability to hurt opponents on the break.
The only defect in those minutes was the inability lack of proper decision making when Nigeria had the ball in the final third. That may be a problem reserved for team captain John Mikel Obi to solve when he returns.
Good to see Moses adhere to tactical instructions for the Eagles
Many of Nigeria’s top stars have this penchant of not particularly attending to little details when in the Eagles fold. Victor Moses is one of such but apart from ranking as one of my best players for the Eagles on the night, his dedication to team shape and discipline impressed me.
Moses virtually stayed on the right flank throughout the first half and despite switching occasionally to the left in the second period, he spent the most time on the right, from where he wreaked havoc for the game’s decisive moment.
Forget the first half, Uzoho is on the verge of greatness
All knives and daggers were well sharpened and drawn out in anticipation of 19-year old Uzoho’s full debut for the Super Eagles. Such act is forgivable because it still is incredible that Nigeria might be parading a goalkeeper whom “nobody” knew some ten months ago by the time the World Cup starts.
Somehow not dissimilar to the Biblical Jesus Christ who was accorded with rejection by the Israelites, wondering how a Messiah could come in such humble, unnoticeable manner; but not all heroes wear cape as a friend will say.
Uzoho rightly looked out of sorts at some point in the first half and that overshadowed whatever good he did – being in charge of his defenders and at least not going the wrong way for Lewandowski’s free kick.
The second half was his half! A point blank save from one of the best strikers in the world Lewandowski and a number of decisive clearances left the commentator with some pronouncement in the end.
90+4' Poland 0-1 Nigeria #POLNGA
"After a nervous start, he has grown into a giant.
— ACLSports (@acl_sports) March 23, 2018
Troost-Ekong proves Gernot Rohr can hardly ever be wrong
The decision to hand Turkey-based Willliam Troost Ekong the captain’s armband for Friday night’s game was greeted with mixed feelings.
It can be argued that the Dutch-born defender clearly deserves the honour given his consistent displays for the national team – the only player that played every minute of Nigeria’s six group games during the World Cup qualifiers, but there was also the argument of other senior players in the team.
Leon Balogun who led the team in Algeria and Victor Moses especially – though the latter has hardly shown any form of commanding leadership – were thought to be ahead of him in such responsibility but the Tottenham Hotspurs trainee posted a man-of-the-match performance to lead the team from the back.
His performance continues to win him more respect and adulation in the team while his partnership with Leon Balogun grows. Surely, someone should be watching by now? (https://www.aclsports.com/5674-2/)
Ndidi’s long throws and set-piece mess
Nigeria’s senior national team are known to be a robust outfit which deploy any sort of weaponry to attack their opponents be it beautiful or ugly. Such is the usage of the long throw tactics.
Sunday Oliseh’s world famous winner against Spain in 1998 resulted from a long throw by Jay Jay Okocha and while the Super Eagles have not used such in recent years, Gernot Rohr resurrected it before the games against Cameroon with Wilfried Ndidi in charge of the task.
It is however puzzling that one of the tallest players in the squad is in charge of such task leaving who: Ighalo, Iheanacho, Iwobi et al to battle for it since the centre backs prefer to stay back (though Troost-Ekong managed to go at a point with no success).
Nigeria were also unable to make good use of their set-plays. Victor Moses won a couple of free kicks in very good positions in the first half but he and captain Troost-Ekong fired wide. Such opportunities may just be what a team require to win games on the biggest stage.
The Eagles have won in whatever way a victory can come but they remain under watch as Nigerians continue to hope that their belief in this side will mature into their best ever World Cup showing in Russia.