Saturday, November 22, 2014

X-Raying Keshi's Tenure with Focus on Competitive Games….

As it is, Stephen Keshi, may be one of Nigeria's most controversial coaches of all time. After his team's inability to beat South Africa on Wednesday, it appears that the curtain may have closed on his coaching career with Nigeria's national team. Here is a guy who swam against the tide by insisting on inviting home based players for the Super Eagles,  inviting players from little-known leagues, throwing out star players that were previously considered untouchables, battled with his federation bosses, was disengaged and recalled, among others. Yet, he has not only improved the team but won the Cup of African Nations amidst the din. But that is a "century" ago! His final statistics in 31 competitive games appear in graph 8.

This piece is not to look at Keshi’s record as a winner or as a loser nor is it to catalog his eventful tenure on the edge of controversies. Instead, it is about looking at the team, under his tenure, in terms of statistics that are often glossed over. These include analyzing at what point in the game does the team score its goal, at what point does it concede, does the team convert set pieces and how many has it given up,  what percentage of its wins comes when the team scores first or leads at halftime.

It is important to note that the data reflects only competitive games under Keshi. In essence, none of the international friendlies are part of the data. In addition, data from the African Championships (CHAN) is not used as the focus is squarely on the Nigerian “A” team.

The first graph looks at when the team often scored its goals compared to the scoring of its opponent. The data shows that most of the team's goals came in the last 15 minutes of a game and the next highest totals came just after half time. In essence, the team struggled to score early in its competitive games. Fortunately, it was also difficult for its opponents to score early.

Graph 2 shows the team's record on set pieces that resulted in a goal. Set pieces here refer to free kicks or corner kicks. Contrary to widely-held opinion., the team actually converted more set pieces than its opponents, at least in competitive games. However, one must note that the conversion rate per match was 0.26 or 8 in 31 games. On penalty kicks, it also converted more than its opponents.

I have also looked at final results obtained from games when the team took the lead or when the team went behind in a game. Graph 3 shows that the team won most of its games when it scored first. In fact, it lost only one such game i.e. a home game in Calabar against Congo Republic. But it was an entirely different story when the opponent scored first (Graph 4). In such situations, the team struggled mightily, winning only one of such games 2-1 in Addis Ababa against Ethiopia. It lost 50% of such games.

A similar test was to assess the final result after half time. In games where the team led at half time, it almost always won (Graph 5), in games tied at half time, the team won less than 50% of such games  (Graph 6). When it was losing (Graph 7), it never came back to win the game.

Finally, we looked at goalscoring and assists. Almost half the team's goals (49%) were assisted. Mikel Obi led in this category providing assists in above 20% of the games he played. Emenike was second showing that he made contributions even though he may not have scored as much as the fans wanted. Emenike ranked second to Ahmed Musa in terms of goals scored by players under Keshi's tenure. However, he was ahead of Musa when scoring is calculated as proportion of number of games played. Surprisingly, Ike Uche who played in only 12 games under cOach Keshi led in ratio of goals scored per game and was third in scoring behind only Musa and Emenike.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Enyeama Approaches Milestone as South Africa Looms

Nigeria's captain, Vincent Enyeama, is just two games from equaling Joseph Yobo's record 100 appearances. He will get one of those games Wednesday against South Africa in a critical Cup of Nations Cup qualifier in Uyo.  In this piece, we look at Enyeama and nine other players who are likely to reach the century mark in appearances for Nigeria.

That Joseph Yobo, at the 2014 World Cup, became Nigeria's first 100-game player was surprising considering that multiple players have achieved that feat in several countries. First, note that it took Yobo a career spanning 14 years and beginning on March 14 of 2001 to get to 100 games.  In our analysis, all the ten players we have selected will likely get to 100 games, barring injuries. We do not include Osaze Odemwingie who already has 65 games because it will take him a projected 16 years in the national team to reach 100 games. It is possible but unlikely and, thus, we do not list him among our ten players.

Part of our calculation estimates the average number of games that Nigeria plays annually. We arrived at an average of 14 games per year by looking at Nigeria's games in the last five years (2009 to 2013). Of course, the number of games vary widely with just 9 in 2009 to a high of 21 in 2013. Nigeria played a total of 68 games in that five-year span.

The table below lists the ten selected players and provides the following: number of games played so far, year of debut, number of years played, number of years predicted to reach 100 games, and year 100 games is likely to be reached. In addition, we use a + to indicate great confidence that 100 games will be reached, = to indicate some confidence, and - to indicate low confidence. It is important that even though we rate some players with low confidence, these players actually are on a similar pace that it took Yobo to reach 100 games!

Vincent Enyeama has just two games left to match Joseph Yobo's record. He is a cinch to match and then surpass Yobo's record. Notably, he debuted in the same game as Odemwingie in 2002 during an international friendly against Kenya as the team prepared for the 2002 World Cup.

Realistically, Who Will Get To 100 After Yobo?
Though,we have listed 10 players with the opportunity to get to 10 games, the reality is that only a fraction of those players will get there because of several factors including coach's decision, injuries, among others. Therefore, let's take a more realistic look. Of course, Enyeama has the best chance with only two games to spare. Beyond Enyeama, we believe there are just three players on that list with a very good chance -- Oboabona, Onazi, and Omeruo. Those three are likely to continue as national team starters regardless of who the next national team coach is. Though Omeruo has six years to go to be in the range for 100 games, he appears to be in much stronger position compared to a few others with less years to 100 games.

Take Mikel Obi for example. In our calculation, he has just three years. However, Obi has missed some invitations in the past which will impact his ability to get to the 100 game target. Secondly, his style which is slow puts him in danger of quickly being out of favor with a new coach, particularly if he is not playing regularly for a top club in Europe.

Over their career, Musa and Moses have not regularly played 90 minutes for Nigeria which puts them in jeopardy. Emenike, while he plays regularly, often is susceptible to injuries because of his physical style and he appears to be a very streaky striker and with five years to go he is likely to face competition against up and coming young Nigerian strikers such as Isaac Success, Kelechi Iheanacho, and others.

Then Efe Ambrose and Elderson Echiejile who are both strong regulars under Keshi may not be automatic choices under a new coach because both have glaring weaknesses in their play that would warrant competition with several emerging players.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Critical win in Brazzaville with one more to go

Nigeria's 2-0 win in Brazzaville today was critical and keeps hope alive as the team awaits the next game in Uyo against a South African team that has already qualified for the 2015 Cup for African Nations. Nigeria must now be considered in the driver's seat and on the way to qualification.

Nigeria opened the game in dominant fashion but it must be said that very few clear chances was created by the team. The only chances came with headers off corner kicks especially one in which Mikel Obi barely missed the far end in the 20th minute. But as Nigeria became frustrated by its lack of clear chances, Mikel increasingly launched long balls which Uche rarely won up front. Nigeria's lack of ideas clearly gave the home team confidence to take complete control of the game in the last 15 minutes. Importantly, Congo was able to create clear chances where Nigeria failed earlier. Three times, Congo miscued in front of Nigeria's gaping goal. The reality was that Nigeria was saved by the half time whistle and the consolation that it was still 0-0.

Congo was on the ascendancy in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. Nigeria's middle had "died" with Onazi making passing miscues and Akpan contributing very little. That Nigeria scored in the 57th minute was a surprise as it was against the run of play. The goal itself was a piece of excellent work with Mikel sending Emenike through, forcing the goalie to foul the latter deep in the box. Uche converted to the goalkeeper's right. But it was always going to be tough for Nigeria to protect the goal, particularly with Congo playing confidently. And so it was. Five minutes later, Oboabona was judged to have handled in the box. However, Enyeama, who had a superb game, stretched fully to punch away the attempt from the spot. As Congo became more desperate, Nigeria increasingly found holes in Congo's defense. Coach Keshi made deft substitutions bringing in two players who were at the core of the second goal. Aluko struck a pass to the much-maligned Aaron Samuel who left footed a shot into the far corner of the net. It was his second goal in the last two games.

Angry Congolese fans began to throw objects into the arena prompting match officials to stop the game. Stephen Keshi had one more day to live after this win and he is proving to be a cat with many lives.

Line-up with rating (1-10, 10 being outstanding)
Vincent Enyeama (cpt-1) 9 - Efe Ambrose (5) 5, Azubike Egwuekwe (6) 7, Godfrey Oboabona (2) 6, Juwon Oshaniwa (13) 6 -- Ogenyi Onazi (17) 6, Mikel Obi (10) 7, Hope Akpan (12) 5* (52nd Sone Aluko (11) 6) -- Emmanuel Emenike (9) 6 (70th Aaron Samuel (4) 6.5), Ikechukwu Uche (15) 6, Ahmed Musa (7) 6 (85th Gbolahan Salami (18)x).

Cautions:  Oboabona (62nd) and Onazi (67th)
* injured