Nigeria reached the 2014 World Cup finals with a routine-like win over Ethiopia in Calabar. The game provided us with an opportunity to closely look at the Nigerian team. Unfortnately, this game may not have been Nigeria at its best considering the circumstance where it started with a foot already in the World Cup finals after wining last month in Addis Ababa 2-1. Nevertheless, here is my interpretation of the game in Calabar.
THE GAME: Nigeria controlled most of the game with its ball possession display and some revealing passes that presented several opportunities early on. However, it must be said that the fact that Nigeria was hardly troubled may have been due to Ethiopia’s tactics where only Saladin was left up front until the opening goal when Mekele was further advanced in search of goals. With Saladin alone up top, Ethiopia sought to cut off Nigeria’s wide defenders rampaging upfront with long balls. However, with Nigeria’s central defense at home, Saladin had difficult choices. He often drifted left behind Efe Ambrose (the most aggressive defender going forward) but he had two choices – one, technically outwit the central defenders or hope other Ethiopians could quickly join him. None of those two occurred and the best Saladin could earn was an occasional corner kick. On the other hand, Mekele presented problems with his speed and had opportunities. A big one was after 53 minutes when he outran Omeruo but Enyeama was quick off his lines to deny. Besides those, Nigeria was in control and recovered the ball quickly with pressure that forced Ethiopia into several passing mistakes. Ethiopia’s pressure on the ball was amply dealt with by Nigeria (a major difference compared to how Nigeria had difficulty early in Addis Ababa). This time, Nigeria protected the ball well and forced Ethiopia into crude tackles and shirt tugging in desperate search for the ball. Nigeria’s attack was aggressive early on with passes through the defense and the wide forwards swinging crosses in. One must add that Ethiopia had a few penalty claims and perhaps if the referee that was in charge in Nigeria’s recent game in Amman was on duty in Calabar, Ethiopia may have had a penalty call go its way.
PLAYER RATING (Scale 1-5): Enyeama 3 (An average day. Called to save on few occasions and he did) – Efe Ambrose 4 (Was impactful going forward in the opening half but tailed off much later), Omeruo 3 (Good opening half but was questioned for pace in the second and a clumsy tackle in the second was right on the 18 yard box), Oboabona 3.5 (steady display in defense), Echiejile 3 (Average display and was cut out a few times) – Onazi 4 (Impactful all day), Mikel 3.5 (Steady display and made a few eye-popping passes deep), Ideye 2.8 (was active early but significantly faded as the game went on) – Musa 3 (Displayed his usual pace, good decision on a quick throw early that almost led to a goal but his crosses were not always visionary), Emenike 3 (Average game and faded as the game went on), Moses 3.2 (Dangerous going forward early but his ball recovery instincts is an issue).
-- Egwuekwe 2.8 (Did not see much. Average and was clumsy in one tackle deep in the box), Mba 2.5 (Looked like trying to do much and lost balls in traffic), Nsofor 3 (Great freekick goal but then crumbled on a muscle problem late and did not do much).