Reigning African champions Nigeria suffered their worst defeat in almost eight years on Friday night when they were annihilated by France in Le Mans.
It was the first time new Super Falcons coach Thomas Dennerby was able to call on several of his foreign-based stars although in a hurried manner and while he can be sure of learning one or two things from the players’ abilities, the result was not something he would have hoped to start with.
There is indeed not much time left for the well respected coach to get his team in the right frame of mind and shape ahead of the 2018 Africa Women Cup of Nations qualifiers and championship proper.
Here are my takeaways from the game:
1. It was not a bad ‘individual’ performance
There is absolutely no way anyone could justify a scandalous scoreline such as an 8-0 defeat but while it shows (Dennerby) there is a lot of ground to cover, the players were not entirely bad on individual levels. Yes, there were mistakes here and there and an wholesome lack of cohesion but there were enough positives to be taken from the individual efforts.
Desire Oparanozie was almost a Lone Ranger as she fought in every way she could, Ngozi Okobi toiled with her effervescence, defender Glory Ogbonna showed glimpses of the bright future ahead of her and despite being culpable for the third goal, goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie impressed with her ball handling and a number of good saves, top among which was Le Sommer’s acrobatic effort.
2. Imbalanced call up reared its ugly head
It must be said that the foundation for this humiliation was laid when just seventeen players were called up for this friendly without any recognised defensive midfielder. While I believe the number of players invited were not sufficient for a group that has not met for over a year, the lack of balance in the selection also had grave consequences.
For a team of 17 (later 18 with the addition of Sophia Omidiji), there were far too many attackers at the detriment of team’s balance and if that is what Mr Dennerby is coming to do then one should be scared.
3. Time to abolish 2-man midfield at all levels?
It was always going to be a long, hard night for the midfield duo of captain Rita Chikwelu and Ngozi Okobi. Both players were saddled with the task of containing the fluid French ladies as well as creating for Nigeria’s attackers going forward. None of the tasks could be accomplished as Chikwelu (especially) failed to cope with the high pressing of the French maidens.
The team could also not string patient, build-up passes together from the rear as they are always in a haste to send hopeful long balls in search of Oparanozie. At every time there was a turnover of possession to the hosts, there was always a gaping space behind Chikwelu and Okobi which further exposes the shaky back line with Le Sommer’s off-the-ball movement already a menace to them.
The utmost craving of Nigerian football fans nowadays is for their teams to enjoy good possession while building up with simple passes as they see continually in Europe. It often takes them into the realm of fantasy on what to expect from the national teams but then; this can be achieved in our own little way through proper coaching and dedication. The women’s national team need this more.
4. High-profile defensive experimentation backfires
Due to the second highlighted point in this takeaway, the technical crew was left to make all sorts of alterations during the game which distorted things further. At 3-0 down at half time, Ngozi Ebere was replaced by Ogbonna and Ugo Njoku replaced Josephine Chukwunonye. It meant that the specialist left back and centre back made way for an inexperienced left back and Faith Ikidi moved to the centre back position, an improvisation.
The result was disastrous. Ikidi had hardly ever partnered Osinachi Ohale at centre back for the Falcons and she was stretched despite her versatility. She eventually scored an own goal minutes after she was lucky not to have done so. Ogbonna’s left flank became a major target and three of the five goals conceded in the second half came from that position.
It was not a worthwhile experiment and I believe the Swedish coach must have realised that.
5. Mr Dennerby, your work is greater than you envisage
This is the most important takeaway from the game. Whatever it is that was the essence of the friendly has made it an eye-opening one for the (relatively new) coach. The ninety-minute performance was enough to put the team’s many flaws that have not been corrected for about a decade on the front burner.
Players could not adhere to strict positional discipline (more suicidal in defense), the team cannot defend dead-balls. (France threatened with almost each of their set-plays with Nigerian players mostly clueless on where to be and whom to stay with.)
The greatest undoing of the team on the night was the players’ inability to execute simple tasks (such as 10m passes) yet attempting the extra-ordinary ones.
Dennerby MUST coach and teach this team. He must not take this as a regular national team job where you assume players already know the basics from their clubs. NO! You must get them together for long and teach them. Show them where to stand and when to move after all accomplished coaches like Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte do such for their teams.
The new coach must leave an imprint on the team whenever he leaves and this can be done by days, weeks of camping and rigorous exposure to modern day training techniques. This must start with the locally based players because many of the foreign-based stars may not be available during the qualifiers.
Time to work is NOW!