Saturday, September 20, 2014

Debutants in Competitive Internationals: A rarity but. . . .

When Christian Osagona appeared with 17 minutes left in the Cup of Nations qualifier against South Africa, he came closest to scoring for Nigeria but his presence in that game was a rarity for Nigeria. He had debuted in a competitive international, a feat matched by only 19 other players in the last decade which has featured as many as 170 debutants for Nigeria. Nigeria rarely debuts a player in a competitive international. On many occasions, the preference is to test a player in a friendly international before the big stage.

One may assume that a coach indicates confidence in a player's ability leads to a debut in a competitive international. After all, the risk in debuting a player in a competitive situation is high and thus it is reasonable to assume that players debuted in such an occasion is believed to be a can't miss prospect. But has that been the case?

The data will surprise you. We ran the stats on 19 players debuted in such situations since 2004, the last decade. Note that we did not include the CHAN because of complexity in determining which CHAN games were counted as "A" internationals. We constructed four tables from the data. In one we note that three of the 19 were started in a competitive game while the rest were used as substitutes averaging just 12.75 minutes. The next table is used to identify the average number of games and minutes played by these players subsequent to their debut. The averages give an idea on whether the coaches made the right call in debuting them in a competitive game. We compare players who played at least 10 games for Nigeria to those that did not. The players with 10 or more games were eight (8): Obinna Nwaneri, Yusuf Ayila, Obinna Nsofor, Onyekachi Okonkwo, Ahmed Musa, Victor Moses, Ogenyi Onazi, and John Ogu. Of those, only one -- Obinna Nwaneri -- actually started in his debut game! The result is baffling and calls to question the judgment of coaches. Those who ended up playing 10 or more games averaged 18.63 minutes on their debut and those who later averaged two games in their national team career averaged 26.82 minutes in their debut! The rest of the tables list data on all 19 players debuted in the last decade in competitive internationals.

Just a note of caution, besides Obinna Nwaneri there were two other players who were started in their debut in a competitive game. You may hardly remember the names but they were Mohammed Aliyu Datti who started in an CAN/WC qualifier v. Angola (June 20, 2004) and Sunday Stephen in a CAN qualifier v Guinea (October 10, 2010). Both have not played for Nigeria since!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

NIGERIA: Troubling Statistics and Trends

After Nigeria's 0-0 tie in Cape Town away to South Africa there are things that jump to the mind. Clearly, Nigeria is going through a rough patch and it is not just at the current Cup of African Nations qualifiers where Nigeria has already suffered a historic home loss. There are some notable statistics that jump at you:

1. Nigeria has not won a game in its last four appearances and has only won one game in its last 10!

2. In the last four games, Nigeria has given up eight goals!

3. Nigeria's top striker -- Emmanuel Emenike -- has failed to score in 11 consecutive games for the Super Eagles!

While the above statistics may reflect just a rough patch that affects all teams, it could also reflect a downward trend that may not augur well for the defense of the Cup of African Nations. Let's hope that it reflects the former and not the later. What seems to be clear is that this team reflects the performance of its talisman -- Mikel Obi -- whose form has plummeted during the period in question. Nigeria's inability to take control of the midfield has been a big issue recently.

In any case, next month will be the real test for Nigeria. The game in Sudan will go a long way in determining whether Nigeria qualifies for the 2015 Nations Cup as one of the two top teams in its group or it waits stressfully hoping to be the best third-placed team to reach the Cup finals in Morocco. Nigeria must win in Sudan to hope for at least a second-place finish. A draw may not be enough. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not a team that has historically travelled well. However, it has been capable of winning away when the chips are down as was the case in Omdurman, Sudan in 2001; in Zimbabwe in 2004; and then Nairobi in 2009.