Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Effects of International Friendlies on Nigeria's Competitive Outcomes…..

Recent reports indicate that Nigeria plans to play two international friendlies before a key Nations Cup qualifier against Egypt next March. Quite often Nigeria, as well as other nations, seek to play international friendlies before a competitive game. The idea is that an international friendly prepares the team for the more important competitive game that follows. However, Nigeria does not always play international friendlies just before participating in a competitive game. This makes one wonder whether or not it makes a difference playing international friendlies before a competitive game.

This article explores the question of whether international friendlies before a competitive game makes a difference in the outcome of the competitive game.

While we will not depend on an ultra scientific test to measure effects of international friendlies on the results of competitive games for Nigeria's Super Eagles, we will in this piece look at a few data.

We will investigate Nigeria’s games in the last decade (i.e. 2005-2015) and assume that a good outcome in a competitive game played away from home is either a draw (or a win). We assume also that Nigeria always has a high probability of winning its home games. Therefore, our measurement interest is in poor results achieved at home and how those relate to a prior international friendly or no prior international friendly.

Furthermore, for this exploratory study we do not use any competitive game played at a neutral venue i.e tournament games. The reasoning behind this is that such games often include a significant time that the team practices together which may on its own negate the effect of a lack of an international friendly. Further, we assume that an effect of the international friendly is played when such a friendly occurs within a week before the competitive game. The effect of a friendly may be over multiple competitive games if such competitive games are within two weeks of each other. Finally, the effect will be calculated on efficiency basis i.e. percentage of total potential points earned by the team.

Away Games: Figures 1-3 show results of Nigeria’s away games since 2005. The first figure compares efficiency between Away Games after a Friendly to Away Games after no Friendly. The efficiency for away games after a friendly is higher than efficiency after no friendly. In the data, we have 12 games each that was played after a friendly and after no friendly. In the first case (see Figure 2), there was one defeat (1-2 to Uganda in 2007) after a friendly in Nairobi against Kenya. Nigeria won 6 and drew 5 of the other away games played after an international friendly.

Figure 3 shows away games played by Nigeria without the benefit of an international friendly. Nigeria still did well with 4 wins, 6 ties, and losing only in Conakry to Guinea (0-1) and in Sudan (0-1).

Home Games: Figure 4 looks at poor results obtained at home in competitive games since 2005. These results are 2-2 v Guinea, 1-1 v Kenya, 2-3 v Congo Republic, and 2-2 v South Africa. Only one of those results followed an international friendly and that was the 2-2 draw against South Africa. Note also that this friendly occurred with the CHAN team i.e. home-based players. The rest occurred after no international friendly was played to prepare the team.

While there may be a tendency to look at data and assume that they are conclusive, we caution that for this particular study we must recognize results as exploratory. For instance, the poor results shown in Figure 4 for good reasons occurred during an era when the NFF was battling with the coach and the government and, thus, results can also be alternatively explained.

However, the results offer some lessons. Those lessons include that international friendlies are important before competitive games, particularly when it is clear that the team has just a few days to prepare for competitive games and the coach needs actual games to be sure which problems need urgent correction before a competitive game. Without international friendlies, the coach relies solely on information obtained in slower-paced training. Further, international friendlies assist the coach in making personnel and tactical decisions. Moreover, friendlies help build team confidence and lead to psychological readiness.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Oliseh's Eagles and Set-Pieces.....

One major question about the Super Eagles under Sunday Oliseh is as follows: Is the team improving or not? Ultimately, that question will be answered by how much progress the team makes in its attempt to qualify for both the 2017 Cup for African Nations (CAN) and the 2018 World Cup. However, we can at least take a look at one area that improvement now appears obvious. That area is in conversion of set pieces. In an earlier article, we discussed Nigeria v opponents' set-piece successes at the CAN and the World Cup.

This article is different. It looks at the set-piece data under Coach Oliseh and compares it to similar data, at the same point of development, for the Super Eagles under Adegboye Onigbinde, Christian Chukwu, Augustine Eguavoen, Berti Vogts, Shuaibu Amodu, Lars Lagerback, Samson Siasia, and Stephen Keshi. In essence, it is a comparison of Nigerian coaches since 2002. We wanted to look at the last 15 years but that would have involved covering one coach over two periods, we decided to settle on 2002 to avoid collecting data multiple times on a single coach.

The table and figures below provide data generated for the comparison. The data should be interpreted with caution for various reasons. First, only the first seven games of each coach's career are used. For Lagerback it is just six games and for both Onigbinde and Amodu, we used only the first seven games during their last period managing the national team. Second, note that under Keshi the first seven games were with a largely home-based squad. Third, though we are confident about the accuracy of our data, we do not discount the possibility of minor errors.

Offensive Play: Data
The data demonstrates that only under Oliseh and Eguavoen has a Nigerian coach, during the researched period, converted five set pieces within the first seven games. However, we would give Oliseh the edge over Eguavoen since set-pieces under Oliseh's management constitute a larger percentage of total goals scored during his tenure. Oliseh's team has scored 56% of its total goals from set pieces as the graph in green demonstrates. That is a remarkable percentage! The closest is Lagerback at 43% but two of the set pieces under Lagerback came from the penalty spot. Similarly, Eguavoen's total includes three penalty-kicks, compared to two under Oliseh. In essence, the team under Oliseh has used the set-piece as an important aspect of its game during the manager's first seven games.

Defensive Play: Data
Defensively, as the graph in red demonstrates, Oliseh's team has been stellar against set pieces. It has yet to concede a single goal from that route. Generally, Nigeria's coaches have done comparatively well defending the set pieces in the managers first seven games. The only exceptions are Onigbinde, Lagerback and Vogts. Onigbinde's team, particularly, conceded a whopping 67% of its goals via set pieces!

Oliseh's Team and the Subtle Change on Set Pieces
One thing that is impressive with Oliseh's team is not just the conversion of set pieces as percentage of total goals scored but the strategic change on how these kicks are taken. See the video on the Swaziland game in Lobamba and in Port Harcourt. Notice the converted set-pieces and those that were not converted. Prior to Oliseh's team, the route of choice for most Nigerian teams was to blast the ball with the hope that it will travel faster towards the net than the goalkeeper would be able to save it. This often was used by the likes of Taye Taiwo and Emmanuel Emenike as set piece takers. Only few players in an earlier era, notably Augustine Okocha, relied on finesse to convert such opportunities. Under Oliseh, we have now seen Moses Simon and Ogenyi Onazi use finesse rather than power to outwit the goalkeeper with opportunities closer to goal. On opportunities that are wide off the goal, the ball is no longer lofted aimlessly but appear to be more targeted to the bigger Nigerian players to convert.

It must be noted that while it is obvious that the coaches have focused on converting set piece opportunities and players have worked on getting the calls near opponent's goal, these strategic shooting should also be applied to non-set piece opportunities in front of goal. The recent match against Swaziland could have ended in a larger margin of victory for the team if players such as Igbonu and Ighalo were more clinical in front of goal. These players tried to strike the net with the most vicious of shots instead of attempting to place the ball away from the goalkeeper's reach. This is clearly a world of difference from the way the team has so far approached set-pieces.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Interpreting Oliseh and his Swaziland Decision....

Nigeria beating Swaziland on Tuesday was anticipated even though Nigeria huffed and puffed through the two-game series in order to unpack a defensive team. What was not anticipated was Coach Oliseh’s bold move to change the team in the midst of a critical series. Also, his decision to suddenly replace three foreign-based players with home based lads. However, Oliseh making those moves made clear his thinking going forward. It also indicated a major shift in his stated positions in the past. Read below:

How Oliseh Wants To Play?

You cannot play in our attacking line-up if speed is not one of your stronger points 
          -- Oliseh in July 2015.

The quote above obtained from indicated Oliseh’s views about characteristics of his attacking players. In previous interviews he made statements that such characteristics should define a Nigerian team, not just attackers. Then in the quote below he praises such characteristics in a Nigerian player against Uruguay at the FIFA Confederations Cup:

“We were just trying to tiki taka our way into the penalty box of the Uruguayans. I was impressed with Babatunde Michael when he came on because he had a bit of pace going forward and he was trying to shoot despite our pattern of play.

However, in spite of the talk, he seemed to fall short with his initial team list that included starters that could not exactly be considered pacey. There was Obiora Nwankwo and then Mikel Obi. So there were legitimate questions about where the coach truly intended to go. Same issues clearly could be seen in the middle of his defense where his choice of starters were not particularly fast.

On Tuesday, however, the coach made the move to change all that. His benching of Mikel Obi was as shocking as it was unbelievable. Mikel, by far, is the most skilled Nigerian midfielder and his game often dictates how the team plays. When he is on, then the team can dominate any team in Africa as it did in 2013 when winning the African Cup of Nations. However, Mikel’s influence on team performance also meant that he slowed down the team's pace. To have the most important piece of the team at a different pace from the coach’s vision ultimately meant the vision could not be achieved.

Without Mikel in the game on Tuesday, the team played quicker but the fact is that Nigeria was playing a team that was far from Africa’s best. Without Mikel’s presence and control in the middle, how would the team fare against the likes of Egypt in the next year and the World Cup qualifying opponents in the third round of the African qualifiers? The answer better be one that leads Nigeria to victory or Oliseh could very well find himself gone. But it is clear that he has taken a bold step. A step that will make him a hero or a zero.

Oliseh’s Views About Homebased Players

A few years ago, Sunday Oliseh via, criticized the increasing use of home based players in the Nigerian national team. 

If you are a Foreign based pro. it is not because these foreign clubs want to do you a favour, it is because you are one of the best from your country, simple. By gradually trying to wage a war against these players who ply their trade week in week out at the highest level leagues in the world we are turning our back to our best  and waging a war against ourselves, they are Nigerians too I must remind !  They should not be cast away just because our technical crew lack the skills to manage them at the detriment of Nigeria.....The Confederations cup was of a higher level than the AFCON: high level tactics, Advanced Coaching, speed of execution and result orientation was on display and the world cup next year will be even at a faster pace. That am sorry is why I feel a gradual introduction of home based players, shouldered and protected by experience should have been the case, cause the scenarios for them to play at this level are absent at the moment!

Thus, it was surprising on Tuesday, in a critical game, he proceeded to bench three foreign–based players and replaced them with home based players. Perhaps, he felt that they were supremely suited for the bustle of the African game. Maybe, he has learned something from working close with them in the last months. It is not just the pedigree of playing for a foreign club that counts but your commitment to the course, your drive, and the intensity  projected at the hour of need. Many foreign based players provide all that but so also do home based ones. Oliseh’s decision to trust homebased players indicates a fundamental change in his views. He was no longer going from afar but observing their performance from close in. Whatever it is, this change is definitely a plus for Nigeria because what matters is a player's ability to accomplish the coach’s task and not whether or not he wears a foreign-based label. It is the task of the manager to build a team and tactical blueprint that players, both locally or foreign based, must use effectively based individual technique that led to their invitation in the first place. 

Tuesday, indeed, may well have defined the future for Oliseh and his team. While many will claim that victory was certain against Swaziland and, thus, nothing could have been learned from that game. On the contrary, I would argue that because it was Swaziland and a chance of defeat always exists, the magnitude of such defeat had the potential to destroy Oliseh's career forever. The fact then that he took the huge gamble is insightful to his thinking.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why Swaziland isn't a Piece of Cake....

Swaziland, with a population of just over a million people, is smaller than the population of several Nigerian cities. Swaziland is ranked 130 compared to Nigeria's 59 rank. Of course, the conclusion is that the Swaziland game should be a walk in the park for the Super Eagles even though Nigeria has never met Swaziland in an international. 

However, think again. Just a month ago, Nigeria was unable to overcome the No. 135 ranked Tanzania. More telling was that Tanzania did enough to lament missed opportunities to win the game. Guess what? Swaziland in the last few months has beaten the same Tanzania and stunned Guinea 2-1 in Morocco. Those results represent the strength of this Swazi team, the best the country has ever produced. Of course, all that does not mean that Swaziland is expected to beat Nigeria. However, it does mean that Super Eagles must be aware that this team is capable of an upset, particularly in front of a home crowd at the Somhlolo National Stadium in Lobamba

Nigeria's anticipation of an away win is predicated on how its attackers perform. Unfortunately, Nigeria's coach Sunday Oliseh is still engrossed in building the Nigerian team into his own vision. What is not clear is what that vision is. There have confusing signs of what type of personnel he favors and those confusing signs continue unabated. One may have believed that he needed a strong and powerful man upfront, a guy who can confidently hold up the ball. However, that belief dissipated with the retirement of Emenike. What Oliseh does now is open to interpretation as he has Odion Ighalo in camp as well as Obafemi Martins. They are different types of strikers. Ighalo is all about positioning and taking half chances but also going AWOL for significant minutes of a game. Martins is usually all action and running often at the defense.

The table below compares all forwards who have scored for Nigeria and were invited for the Swaziland game. We also add the stats of the retired Emenike for comparison.  Of course, the pool of data for Ighalo is much smaller because he has played fewer games and Martins is a veteran whose last few games for Nigeria have not been particularly noteworthy. The data show Ighalo is better than all the listed players in minutes per goal scored for Nigeria. The worst is skipper Musa but the reality is that much goal scoring is not expected from Musa because of his wide role.

Nevertheless, it is on the shoulders of Martins and Ighalo that Oliseh relies for a good result in the Lobamba game.

Also unsettled is the advanced midfield position where Oliseh has already tried three players -- Lukman Haruna, Ibrahim Rabiu, and Sylvester Igbonu. Except for Igbonu, the other two have not particularly impressed. Igbonu was impressive in the Cameroon game but his all hustle style may not be disciplined enough to assure consistent productivity, particularly in assisting the strikers with goals.

Fortunately, it appears that Oliseh is much more advanced in settling his personnel at the defensive side of the team. The goal keeper of choice is clearly Carl Ikeme, never mind the misgivings of several Nigerian fans. The middle of the defense has witnessed the dropping of a clearly challenged William Troost-Ekong. What is left is whether Oliseh's choices in defense stand the test of time. Leon Balogun will be absent on account of injury and the question is whether Oboroakpo, who reportedly impressed in the CHAN qualifier against Burkina Faso, will get to start.

The above is, briefly, the state of Nigeria's team that will engage the increasingly confident Swaziland in Lobamba. Nigeria has to respect Swaziland and muster the spirit, confidence, and clinical display produced in an international friendly against Cameroon. That, and perhaps more, will be needed in Lobamba. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Nigeria's U17: Asking the Brain to Think….

Nigeria has dominated the FIFA U17 World Cup but has done very little in the senior World Cup that many, both Nigerians and non-Nigerians, have raised serious questions. Most of these questions revolve around the allegation that Nigeria uses over-age players to win the competition. In this piece, we address these allegations in various ways. To do this in any meaningful way, we begin by describing Nigeria's success under two periods, the pre-MRI and the post-MRI; then we review the MRI test; explain Nigeria's dominance at U17 level; analyze the hypothesized link between U17 performance and World Cup dominance at the highest level; and close by assessing how Nigeria should address some issues.

The Past (Pre-MRI Era)
For us, the past covers the pre-Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) era. There is little doubt that Nigeria took advantage of lax control in the area of birth certifications to field over age players at the U17 levels during this period. To be sure, it was not just Nigeria. Several countries including the likes of Brazil, Syria, Iraq, Mexico, Ghana, Ecuador, and Guinea were all involved in using over age players during this period. Allegations and investigations which were often based on submission of conflicting birth dates and the like led to suspensions, at varying times, of countries like Nigeria and Mexico as well as others. 

The MRI Test
The frequency of allegations of age cheating led FIFA to commission tests on ways to curb the problem because reliance on birth certificates was no longer effective. MRI on the wrist was recommended but it needed to be tested. There are other reliable tests such as ultrasonography on the wrist. The MRI test team, led by Chairman of FIFA's Medical and Research Centre (F-MARC), Jiri Dvorak, conducted several tests and ensured that it cut across ethnic differences by conducting pilot studies of players in Tanzania, Brazil, Canada, Thailand, and Belgium. The study involved MRIs on the wrist to help determine Skeletal Age (SA). Results required raters to blindly (i.e. without knowledge of player name, age, or country) determine probable age from results of the MRI. This helped establish six grades that ranged from I (completely unfused wrist bone or distal radius) to VI (full fusion of the wrist bone) and high probability that the player is over the age of 17. However, note that there are errors associated with the test results. See Table 1 (from Dvorak's study) published in the British Journal for Sports Medicine. It shows that a player between ages 18 and 19 years may pass the test by having an unfused wrist bone but the probability of doing so lessens as the true age of the player increases. Conversely, a player between the ages of 16 and 17 may also fail the test but the probability of this is less than 1%. However, because FIFA U17 competition allows grades I-V fusion it also means that more than 80% of those 18-19 years pass the test! That is a huge number but note that there is a risk in using players who are MRI grade V because they may transition to grade VI between test date during qualifiers and tests at tournament time and thus are ineligible. As many as 58% of 18-19 year olds fall under grade V. Notwithstanding, because of eligible birthdate for FIFA's U17 competition, those slightly over 17 years old at the start of the competition are deemed eligible by FIFA to participate in U17 World Cup. In essence, the "U17 World Cup" is not truly a tournament for players below the age of 17.

In any case, FIFA's MRI scans at U17 World Cups of 2003 and 2005 revealed that as many as 35% of players in those competitions were over the age limit. In essence, one of every 3 players in those competitions was over age. That is a staggering number that is not limited to whether such a player was from Africa or Europe or Asia, or wherever. Fortunately, the introduction of MRI tests has actually reduced the number of players who fail the test which means that there is a high probability of less age cheating because of the tests. Comparative results between FIFA's U17 of 2003 and 2005 obtained from Dvorak's tests confirm this. While 35% of participants were grade VI in 2003, in 2005 the number for grade VI fell to 18%.

The Present (MRI Era)
The use of MRI test was fully employed from 2009 but through random tests. Since then, these tests have not only been done at the national level but at continental and FIFA levels as well. For instance, just two years ago, CAF tests eliminated three players each from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Congo Brazzaville from participation at the 2013 U17 African Championship in Morocco. Players failing such a test at the place of competition cannot be replaced by their team. The results have been encouraging. MRI tests has discouraged participation of players who are unlikely to pass the test. The effect for Nigeria is that it has forced the country to formally identify and groom players from a younger age in U13 and U15 teams. This gives the Federation confidence that there exists a capable pool of players, within the needed age limit, from which it can select a U17 team.

Explaining Why Nigeria Continues to do Well at U17 Level
The question then is why is there persistence in allegations of age cheating leveled against Nigeria? It appears that this results from two major reasons. (1) That footballer falsification of age-related documentation is still high in Nigeria, and (2) That it seems implausible that Nigeria can dominate the world at U17 level but is below average at the senior level.

However, the fact that age-falsification is rampant in Nigeria does not automatically mean that it is rampant in the U17 team. There are reasons why one does not necessarily lead to the other. First, the age-falsification that goes on is often related to the need to present a young age in order to earn a contract in Europe. Often, European clubs would rely on birth certifications and paper-based records and not the MRI test. Thus, the environment is similar to what occurred in the U17 World Cups prior to the MRI era. Such an environment encourages age falsification. However, it is more difficult to do so in U17 World Cup today where independent scientific verification is possible. Thus, it is unlikely that such rampancy occurs for Nigeria at the U17 World Cup level. 

However, a significant number of Nigerian fans believe that it does not make sense that Nigeria dominates at U17 level but is lame at other levels. Thus, this leads to the belief that such domination must be based on the use of over the age limit players. But is that really logical? I would say the answer is NO and here are reasons why:

1. At the youth level, the number of hours playing football is a huge plus. Here, I urge you to read one or both of the following books -- Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and Anders Ericsson's The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. In Nigeria, youth life is hardly as regimented or regulated as in several Western countries. Nigerian youths play football any where and at any time for several hours a day unsupervised and, thus, accumulates needed hours of practice and expertise. In several Western countries, parents have to often take their children to practice for few hours and in perhaps 2-3 days a week. Compare those few hours of practice to hours of practice in Nigeria. Of course, hours spent in the academies in Western countries may mirror the hours in Nigeria but how many players are in academies from which U17 players will be selected? Thus, on hours alone, there should be no surprise that youth players in Nigeria would be at a prime performance level.

2. The number of hours that a team plays together is also a huge plus at all levels of football. Furthermore, several countries do not prioritize national youth football teams and thus, players spend more time at their club academies than in national youth team camps. In Nigeria, however, the opposite is often the case, the national youth team is in camp for several months! Importantly, youth football is a priority that generates a huge interest and following rarely achieved in most non-African countries.

Link Between U17 and the FIFA World Cup
While, the two conditions above make it easier to understand the high level of performance by Nigeria at the U17 level, it remains important to address other issues projected erroneously and mindlessly repeated by the Nigerian press. I address them below:

1. "The reason why Nigerian stars at U17 level do not develop at the Super Eagles level is because they were over age when playing at U17 level" --- This is false and is not based on any factual information or compelling analysis. I examined all players declared the best player at previous FIFA U17 World Cups and also examined their post-tournament careers (see Table 2). Five of 13 such players (not counting 2011 and 2013 winners since their career just commenced) have had reasonable careers. The other 8 had poor post-tournament careers (rated Average to Outstanding). The worst of them was the non-Nigerian -- James Will of Scotland -- named MVP back in 1989 but who made no appearances for Arsenal or Sheffield United and ended up playing only 8 times for low-level clubs such as Dumfermline and Turriff until 2008. There was also Spain's Sergio Santamaria who made only 6 appearances for Barcelona A team and languished in the B and C team until 2011.

The reality is that star players flaming out at the senior level is not and should not be surprising. Biological changes in growth from 17 to 20 years old and over may affect performance in many ways. Furthermore, in the case of Nigeria, players going to obscure European clubs may push their career in a downward trajectory and in certain cases a player choosing to be largely club less while waiting for a big European contract has the same effect. In fact, one may argue that a player who is over 20 and has been a successful performer before being illegally used at U17 level is more likely to perform well post-tournament because he will experience less dramatic biological changes that would stunt his performance.

2. "The reason Nigeria's success at U17 level has not translated to success at the senior level is because Nigeria uses over age players at U17 level" --- This linear expectation that a country performing well (win) at the U17 level will also do the same at the senior level, is largely unsupported by data. There is far more correlation between performance at the older youth levels  (e.g. U20 and U23) with the senior World Cup than at the U17 and the World Cup. Table 3 shows that the dominant World Cup teams have only won four U17 World Cups. This includes Brazil that has used over age players at the U17 level prior to MRI testing. After the MRI tests began, Brazil has failed to win just yet. The rest -- Nigeria, old Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Mexico, and Switzerland -- have not done much at the senior World Cup level. Table 3 shows that most teams that won the U17 World Cup have not gone beyond the second round (a feat also achieved by Nigeria) of the next two senior World Cups when most of those U17 are anticipated to be actively playing. The only exception is Brazil and even then the quarter final World Cup positions are mediocre for Brazil.

It is difficult to explain why a certain group of countries has continued to dominate the senior World Cup. However, one thing is common among those countries and that is World Cup winners often base an estimated 70-100% of their winning squad on players who are based at home. The only exception were the winning squads of 1994, 1998, and 2002. Those three squads, however, had close to 50% of their squad drawn from home. All other World Cups have squads crafted from players drawn from their home league. Why may this be important? It means that many of those players play for a few select clubs and have trained together. That should never be underestimated particularly in a world where national teams only train together a few days before important games.

Issues that Nigeria Should Think About and Seek Solutions
Here the focus should be on how to build a strong senior national team and going beyond domination of global U17 football. There are no easy answers as we have already noted above with our analysis. There are a few things that should be apparent, however. One is that the idea of keeping a U17 team together is a nonstarter noting inevitable biological changes as players mature and also noting that other players who may not have been good at U17 will invariably emerge. Two, success at all levels depend on long term training together. It has brought success at U17 level but the lack of such opportunity at senior level has also led to failures. This cannot be easily addressed because of economic considerations of world football, which forces football labor migration from poor financial compensation locations like Nigeria to high centers of financial compensation. This migration of leads to talent fragmentalization for nations like Nigeria.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Emenike Meltdown: 19 Games and Counting = 0 Goals. . . .

Two years ago, Emmanuel Emenike was one of Nigeria's heroes in the improbable Cup of African Nations' triumph. During that competition, his scoring in five consecutive matches tied a Nigerian record. But that was two years ago!

He is still Nigeria's top choice for striker. However, he has now played 19 games without scoring a single goal. This drought is far more than any top Nigerian striker has ever endured in a national team shirt. The table below lists the 19 games played by Emenike without getting on the scorers sheet. His drought began against Ethiopia in a World Cup qualifier on November 16, 2013 and has continued. Before that fateful date in 2013, Emenike scored twice in Addis Ababa to win a critical game for Nigeria.

So what has happened since?

1.  Emenike has played 1,353 minutes of soccer for the Super Eagles without scoring!

2.  Nigeria has won 14 games but surely not through Emenike's scoring.

3.  Ahmed Musa has scored 5 goals in games played by Emenike.

4.  Moses Simon has  scored 2 goals, Sone Aluko has scored 2 goals and a defender, Efe Ambrose, has scored two goals in games played by Emenike!!

5.  Nigeria has scored 45 goals in games played since. None came from Emenike.

6.  Nigeria was at the 2014 World Cup and reached the second round without an Emenike goal.

7.  Nigeria failed to reach the finals of the 2015 Cup of Nations perhaps because Nigeria failed to count on an Emenike goal.

Fans may have ideas of other important things that occurred since Emenike's drought begun. Fortunately, a game with Swaziland is coming up and it will be yet another opportunity for Emenike. Will he get out of the funk? Perhaps, the next penalty kick awarded to Nigeria should be taken by Emenike.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Watching Nigeria Take Apart Cameroon

After the 0-2 loss to Congo DR a few days ago, few expected Nigeria to comprehensively take Cameroon apart by a 3-0 score. However, one must always view this from the proper perspective. Just as Nigeria was not all bad in the Congo game, one must recognize the Cameroon result as just an international friendly against a team that had been on a decline for a while. Nevertheless, Nigeria's play was well organized and the immense impact of Mikel Obi cannot be overstated and Moses Simon had his best game yet for Nigeria.

The manager, Sunday Oliseh, certainly must be credited with the controlled play of his team and today he is likely basking in smiles in response to his widely criticized invitation of Sylvester Igbonu. Igbonu was extremely important in the middle with his boundless energy and his commitment on both sides of the ball -- when the Eagles had it and when they did not. In fact, a positive in this game was how often the Eagles won challenges against their opponents and tossed the ball around. Then finally, Nigeria scored from a set-piece after a long period It was from a foul on the ever-busy Igbonu, Mikel provided the assist and Efe put it away with a header. Here is how I saw the individual play.

Rating= Firsthalf/Secondhalf

Carl Ikeme (5/6): Carl had very little action in this game. However, his full length dive to put the ball into corner in the 55th minute showed a goalie that does not want to take a chance after a shot came off Efe Ambrose and appeared to be going wide.

Abdullahi Shehu (5/6.5): Shehu's first half positioning was suspect in a few plays but he grew in confidence in the second half except for one poor header after an hour of play. I like his speed in closing down an attacker but the jury is still out on him.

Leon Balogun (5/6): Leon rarely won an aerial challenge in spite of his height but his game improved in the second half and twice he cleared in the box in dangerous situations.

Efe Ambrose (6/6.5): Efe had a very good game but nearly conceded an own goal with a dangerous back pass during a moment of poor communication between him and the keeper. Then, of course, he scored Nigeria's opening goal.

Uwa Echiejile (6/6): Uwa was average today. Nothing much about his game but he did provide the assist for Ighalo's goal. It was a rare cross from him on the day.

Ogenyi Onazi (8/6.5): Onazi was spectacular in the opening half but his game fell off slightly afterwards. He still makes some inaccurate passes and then a shocking and dangerous back pass with five minutes left that forced Ikeme to rush into a clearance.

Mikel Obi (8/7): In just over an hour of play, he showed why Nigeria has to depend on him. Mikel is STILL Nigeria's best midfielder. He is the key to Nigeria's midfield play, bar none. When he left, the midfield control dissipated a bit, even with Nigeria having a man advantage.

Sylvester Igbonu (7/7): Igbonu worked his tail off.  He is a very active player and with the technique and pace to go along. This was his best game so far for Nigeria.

Ahmed Musa (6/6): His magical long range assist that, perhaps, went 50 yards on the second goal was something to behold. Apart from that, Musa was anonymous for large parts of the game.

Emmanuel Emenike (6/6). His goal drought continues. It is now 0 goals in 19 games for Nigeria! However, he wins set pieces for Nigeria.

Moses Simon (7/7): This is Simon's best game for Nigeria, so far. He provided questions all game for the Cameroon defenders. However, Simon rarely protects the ball and he is easily knocked off the ball. His second goal was well taken after he calmly turned his marker to cleverly strike the ball.

Wilfred Ndidi (0/6): Ndidi was energetic but not impactful.

Ibrahim Rabiu (0/6.5): Rabiu puts the ball about accurately and cleverly. Today, he worked hard to pressure the opponents on the ball. This is an area for which Rabiu rarely gets a mention in the past.

Odion Ighalo
Alex Iwobi
Augustine Oboroakpo