Watching Nigeria play at the Confederations Cup 2013 in Brazil provided us with an opportunity to assess the team in preparation for World Cup 2014 that will take place in the same country, Brazil. Sure, Nigeria is yet to get to the final round of the World Cup qualifiers in Africa and, thus, it might appear premature to be writing about being at the World Cup in Brazil. However, I take that risk -- after all, I am neither the coach nor am I an NFF administrator. I am just a football fan and I am doing what fans do -- sit back and become an armchair prognosticator. I love it.
What did we Learn at the Confederations Cup?
There are several key things that we should have learned from participating at the Confederations cup and I list them below:
1. That Nigeria has a team that can compete favorably with the rest of the World. Well, you may say "What's the big deal about that?" You are probably correct. After all, Nigeria is the current African Champion and after all Nigeria has several players playing in some of the challenging leagues in the world. However, bear in mind that several of our top players were missing at this Confederation Cup. Some did not travel and two others were injured at the competition. Also, bear in mind that Nigeria has been rebuilding for some time. My optimism is based on the fact that Nigeria went toe to toe with some of the best teams and held its own in spite of challenges.
2. That we are extremely thin upfront. With Emenike injured, one expected another striker to step up. Disappointedly, none did.
3. That our midfielders need to work harder, particularly in helping the defense when the opponent has the ball. Several times it appeared that our midfielders were late tracking back.
What Should be the Goal going into World Cup 2014?
1. Find adequate substitutes for the striking position. We need strikers who are clinical in front of goal. There will be games where chances are limited. At the Confederations Cup, we had several chances in front of goal but that in my opinion is an aberration. There will be games where an opponent will sit back and allow fewer chances as we have seen in the World Cup qualifiers in Africa. In such situations we better have a striker capable of converting half chances.
2. Our midfield has to work very hard to help the defense. At the Confederations Cup, there were occasions when the midfielders were slow tracking back and this has to be a concern.
I truly believe that the Eagles are coming together and would be very close to a peak output if we get past the African qualifiers and become a participant at the World Cup in Brazil next summer. The Confederations Cup has provided that assurance after the performance against some of the World's best teams. Sure we lost, which is never the ultimate goal, but one has to look at those games like we do after friendly internationals i.e. what were other positives or negatives from the team's play. We no longer play against the world's top teams and expect to be up against the wall. Instead, we actually compete with a good chance to win. We have not been in such a position since 1998.