Sunday, October 13, 2013

Nigeria with a Foot in Brazil After 2-1 win in Addis.....

Nigeria’s 2-1 win over Ethiopia in Addis Ababa  provides Nigeria an advantaged position on the road to Brazil 2014. However, it took several twists and turns to create a riveting story all on its own. In the end, the 2-1 win was barely deserved but it demonstrated the spirit of an African champion. Below, I provide my review of the game.

Background: The game was on a soggy field and late afternoon heat in a high altitude environment that created difficult conditions particularly for Nigeria. But even Ethiopians took a water break after just 30 minutes. Difficult circumstances, indeed.

The Game and Tactical Issues: Nigeria attempted to slow the pace of the game early mindful of the altitude and the heat. On the other hand, Ethiopia pressured the ball with the sole purpose of disallowing Nigeria any space with the ball and also upping the tempo of the game mindful of their advantage under the climatic conditions. Of course, the focus of this tactic was Nigeria’s midfield maestro Mikel Obi who suffered several harsh challenges in the middle. Nigeria was second best as the tactical battle ranged early in the game as Ethiopia forced Nigeria into numerous passing errors as Nigeria sought  unsuccessfully to maintain possession. More troubling to Nigeria as well was the condition of the field, which appeared heavy and slippery. Nigeria was lucky to survive the opening half with a 0-0 tie, particularly after a controversial decision when the referee did not give a goal as the ball arguably crossed the line before Oboabona scurried it to safety. 

The second half appeared to be  a re-run of the opening half with the Nigerian technical bench appearing to wait until midway before making its substitutions in order to counter the altitude. This made sense as the starting eleven was well rested at the half and substituting very early would have been counter productive. But Nigeria was forced to put its plan into play early after the Camerounian referee gave a controversial goal in the 56th minute ruling that a high ball crossed the line before Enyeama caught the ball. Nigeria had to make two quick substitutions to energize the team for a final run to secure at least a draw. This changed the game as Ethiopia switched to relying on a counter hoping to protect its lead. But the refereeing controversy was not over. The referee ignored a clear foul on Musa inside the box as Musa appeared headed for goal in the 76th minute. Then on the penalty that won the game for Nigeria, the rule is clear – the defender should have certainly been sent off. Instead, the referee produced a caution.

Rating Nigerian players (1-5 scale): 
Enyeama 4 – He produced great goalkeeping on the day except for the error of misjudging a high ball that led to  Ethiopia’s goal. He produced confidence and several saves when tested. 
Ambrose Efe 2 – Efe made several poor decisions with passes and was AWOL on several occasions particularly in the first half. 
Egwuekwe 3 – He was assured defensively at times with his clearances but had wayward passes out of defense.  Additionally,  he makes errors that make you wonder with poor contact on a few headers. 
Oboabona 5 – Outstanding all day. He has not played much for his club but did not miss a beat for Nigeria. He scurried a ball to safety on the line in the opening half. Then he dispossessed Sahdin Said deep in Nigeria’s box in the second half.
Echiejile 3 – Echiejile was anonymous in the game for long stretches and put up an average day in the office. 
Onazi  3.5 – He was energetic as always but was already panting after just five minutes because of the conditions. Made wayward passes at times. 
Mikel Obi 3.5 – This was not his usual day. Ethiopians made sure he felt the tackles and he was repeatedly caught in possession. Made one sublime pass that set Musa free on goal in the second half. 
Oduamadi 2 – Largely anonymous and clumsily missed a first half chance when a cross came his way in the opening half. 
Ahmed Musa 3.5 – Musa was dangerous on the day as is usual with his speed. He was denied a goal when he slammed a chance against the post and was then denied a penalty after finding his way past defenders. 
Emenike 4 – Matched a Nigerian record with at least a goal in five consecutive games. He was constantly dangerous and took the first goal well with a vicious shot from outside the box and took the penalty well after being fouled on way to goal. However, he appeared lost on a few occasions early in the second half. 
Moses 2.5 – Moses was also a victim of some harsh tackles and appeared to avoid physical challenges. He provided some good moments but failed to take a one-and-one opportunity in the second half before he was replaced. 
Igiebor 3 – Igiebor added energy to the team when he joined the fray and was defensively notable as a midfielder. 
Ideye 2.5 – Ideye also brought energy to the team but not much else as he spent time helping shore the middle. 
Technical Team 4 – The team had the players playing at a slower pace than usual. This was an excellent move considering the conditions. Then they made substitutions at the right moment to counter the altitude and bring more energy into the team. Importantly, moving a tired but important player like Mikel Obi up while using more energetic players in the middle late not only shored up the middle but left on the field a player who has the most ability to create for others.

Looking Forward: Of course, Nigeria is now in the driver’s seat on all accounts. Ethiopia must come out to play in Nigeria in November. Even a 1-0 win in Nigeria for Ethiopia will not be good enough and they must attack in hostile territory. 

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