Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ugandan Burden....

Nigeria's loss to Uganda in an international friendly on Wednesday was a shocker but in many ways it reminds us of the past. Uganda certainly is Nigeria's bogey team. Surprised? Yes, you may be considering that we have always ranked above Uganda. However, we have consistently found it difficult to beat them whether at home or away. Just a reminder, this defeat is our second home loss to Uganda. Back in 1981, Nigeria led by German coach Gottlieb Goller lost to Uganda 0-1 in an international friendly as Nigeria prepared for the final stage of a World Cup qualifier against Algeria.

That loss was even more significant that the Wednesday loss. On that night in Benin, Nigeria had its galaxy of stars called back from the United States and Portugal and looked forward to teaching Uganda a lesson after Nigeria had lost surprisingly to Uganda 1-2 at the semi-final stage of the 1978 Cup of African Nations in Ghana. Instead, even with returnees like Thompson Usiyen, Andrew Atuegbu, and Christian Nwokocha (joining the likes of Stephen Keshi, Sylvanus Okpala, Aloy Atueguu, Muda Laval, Felix Owolabi, Segun Odegbami, and Henry Nwosu), Uganda triumphed. It was a shock then as it was Wednesday night. It was a 2nd minute goal that decided that 1981 game with Sylvanus Okpala missing a penalty kick just before the interval.

The big story of that day was tempers that flared at the end of the game. Thompson Usiyan reportedly attacked Coach Goller as Goller spoke to the media about the inability of professional players controlling the ball. The truth was Usiyan and Andrew Atuegbu (both recalled from the United States) had particularly poor games on the day but so also did the then locally-based Odegbami and Aloysius Atuegbu.

Just a taste of history. Here is the line up on that day.

Best Ogedegbe - Sylvanus Okpala, Stephen Keshi, Tunde Bamidele, Kadiri Ikhana -- Tunji Banjo, Andrew Atuegbu (Felix Owolabi) -- SegĂșn Odegbami (cpt), Aloysius Atuegbu (Muda Lawal), Thompson Usiyan (Henry Nwosu), Christian Nwokocha.

Coach Gottlieb Goller.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Discovering Super Eagles: Data, Statistics Beget History.

Supporters of Nigeria's national team - Super Eagles - are true fan-atics when it comes to supporting their team. They share the belief that the Super Eagles, based on accessibility to top Nigerian football talents, can easily win the World Cup. Though the statement above is delusional, it is easy to understand why this belief exists among the Eagles' fanatics. After all, Nigeria has won regularly at the youth level and, thus, linear thinking leads one to believe that domination at the youth level leads to domination at the senior level.

However, the reality is that Nigeria is no more than an average team at the global level and has no pedigree to expect cup winning at the rate it fans may believe or hope. Nevertheless, the reality is also that Nigeria has come a long way to the point where it is now frequently considered among the top teams in Africa. That part is not delusional. It is supported by actual data. What we provide here is data tracking the team's rise since its first qualifying game towards a competitive tournament i.e 1960 Olympics. Prior to those qualifiers, Nigeria merely played friendly internationals against Ghana even though those games were for a trophy -- the Zalco Cup.

Scoring Rubrics
The method for tracking the team's performance relies on allocating points based on weights assigned to identified competitions. First, our unit of measure is a block of years consisting of four years or a World Cup cycle. This means that the usual period would include a World Cup and two Cup of Nations. Additionally we also scored for the Olympics up until 1988 because the full national team was eligible to play at the Olympics up until 1988. The same applies to the All Africa Games.

The Table of rubrics is provided below. You will note that no point is awarded for elimination in the qualifying rounds of both the Cup of African Nations and the All Africa Games since the team was  and is fully expected to get to the tournament proper. However, because determining Africa's representatives to the global events -- the World Cup and Olympics -- is more challenging, a point ONLY is awarded for elimination at the final stage of the qualifier.

Some may wonder why a second round appearance at the World Cup does not attract more points than winning the Nations Cup. The rationale is that only one African country can win the Cup of Nations but, theoretically, multiple African countries may get to the second round of the World Cup. Nonetheless, we assign more points for the World Cup quarter finals in spite of the theory above. This is because few African countries have reached the quarter final of the World Cup.

Furthermore, we use percentages (%) as a comparative measure since the maximum possible points that the team may obtain each World Cup cycle may differ because of variables such as non-participation (e.g. World Cup 1966, Nations Cup 1996 and 1998) and/or discontinuation of a competition (e.g. Olympics and All Africa Games). Percentage correct this problem of variation since it focuses on proportionality and is not affected by volume of competition that the team is involved in. The team's performance is then a percentage of the maximum points that it actually obtains in a competitive period (see Table 2).

The Graph below shows that the team made progress from its early years and peaked with its performance during the period that began in 1992 and ended with the 1994 World Cup.  This the period that most Nigerian football supporters refer to as the Golden Era. However, it is also important to note a period of decline that occurred from 2003 and ending with the 2006 World Cup.  That represents the poorest result for the team since it obtained 22% in the 1983 to 1986 period. Overall, the team's performance level appears to be at 50%, a height it first reached under the tutelage of Coach Father Tiko in the late 1970s.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Super Eagles: Shirt Numbers and Players

Shirt numbers? Why?

That may well be the question that immediately comes to mind when you first come across the title of this paper. Guess what? Indeed, shirt numbers matter. If they do not, why is it that several players insist on specific shirt numbers through most of their career? A shirt number does not only serve as an identifier, it may also give an idea as to how a player wants to play, who he wants to model his game after, among other implications. Because of player insistence on wearing a specific number, we have chosen to look at players in recent times (from the late 1970s) to date and locate the most productive and most accomplished players based on shirt numbers.

While the top goalkeepers have worn jersey number 1, other players have selected numbers that do not readily identify the positions that they played on the Nigerian national team. For instance, Christian Chukwu, one of Nigeria's most accomplished player was identified with number 12 most of his national team career. Surprisingly, number 12 has rarely been a choice number for starters on the national team. The next player to have extensively used the number is Kalu Uche but even then, he has worn number 16 more times than he has worn 12. We suspect that his shift to number 12 followed a national team decision to change the shirt number for reserve goalkeepers from 12 to 16. Joseph Yobo kept the number 2 shirt even after he  moved from right back to central defense.

It is important to note that some players were identified with multiple shirt numbers. Muda Laval, for instance, wore both numbers 4 and14 for most of his 90 games for the country. Chukwu wore both numbers 5 and 12 while Humphrey Edebor wore 11 and 13. For our analysis, we used the shirt number worn over 50% of time by a player. In other cases, some players wore several shirt numbers and none of the numbers was worn up to 50% of the player's career e.g. Samson Siasia. In such cases, the player was left out of the compilation.

NOTE: Though the table shows several players with 100% wearing a jersey number, it is important to interpret such data with extreme caution. First, the data represent a rough estimate and there is likelihood that while the actual percentage may be high, it is unlikely to be 100% if all data were to be available for analysis.

One of the surprising result is that while number 10 is reportedly the most popular and preferred shirt internationally for top players, that is not the case with Nigeria's national team. The jersey number 4 appears to be the most worn by top players in Nigeria. That shirt was worn by Muda Lawal, Nwankwo Kanu, and Stephen Keshi -- all Nigerian icons. At the moment, youngster Kenneth Omeruo (included here with number 22 shirt), has begun to make a shift to the number 4 shirt. He has worn that number in his most recent appearances.

On the table, we have bolded players who are currently active. Note that some numbers (above number 11) are not popular with players. The result is that players only use those numbers when they assume low ranking on the team's hierarchy. However, they quickly switch to a preferred number later in their career and when assuming higher ranking as demonstrated in the case of Omeruo. The higher digit numbers, which are least preferred, are therefore mostly blank on our data table because few known players have worn those numbers for a significant part of their career (i.e 50% +).