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

Friday, October 9, 2015

Enigma: Nigeria v Cameroon contests....

After a disappointing 0-2 loss to Congo DR on Thursday, Nigeria should be aiming for a measure of respect against Cameroon on Sunday. Unfortunately, Nigeria's week in Belgium for the games against Congo DR and Cameroon has been clouded by the widely publicized verbal battles between Nigeria's new Manager Sunday Oliseh and the team's former captain Vincent Enyeama with the latter announcing a sudden retirement a few days ago. Oliseh has likely alienated a section of Nigerian fans, some of whom are calling for his sack. Reality is Oliseh will remain on his job but now he must win to earn back the trust of Nigerian fans. That task begins v Cameroon after the loss to Congo DR.

However, results from Nigeria v Cameroon football matches must certainly be one of the major enigmas in African football. The teams face each other in an international friendly in Belgium. It will be their first meeting in more than a decade.

If you walked through the streets of Nigeria to ask about a probable outcome in a Nigeria v Cameroon game you will sense the fear in Nigerians and perhaps the claim that Nigeria always loses such games. That feeling is palpable. However, the fact is that Nigeria has actually dominated Cameroon in their 19 meetings with Nigeria having an efficiency score of 0.63 (Extremely high in a rivalry), winning 10 of the 19 games and only losing 3! It sounds unbelievable but it is true. However, in all three losses to Cameroon, it has involved two Cup of Nations Final and one key game to determine a World Cup qualifier. To add insult to injury, Cameroon won another Cup of Nations after a draw in 2000 (Won on a tie breaker penalty kicks). Because the losses have come at critical moments, they have tended to linger in people's memories.

This week's game in Belgium is not critical and is the type of international encounters that Nigeria has dominated over Cameroon in historical terms. To put things into perspective, Nigeria has not lost to Cameroon for almost three decades and has won in four of the last five contests with the fifth game being the 2-2 tie in the Cup of African Nations final. Cameroon secured the cup on a tie breaker. Moreover, Cameroon failed to beat Nigeria in more than two decades after their first encounter in 1960 until 1984 when they upended Nigeria in a Cup of African Nations final in 1984.  But it will be wrong to state that Nigeria has never beaten Cameroon in critical games. Nigeria did eliminate Cameroon from the qualifiers for the 1970 World Cup in a heartbreaking fashion, winning 3-2 in Douala after a tie in Lagos. Then Nigeria beat Cameroon in Senegal 2-1 to take third place at the Cup of African Nations in 1992 and then eliminated Cameroon from the 2004 Cup of African Nations 2-1 at the quarter final stage in Tunisia. That was Nigeria's last game against Cameroon. The full results of all 19 encounters appear on the Table below.

It is one of the most puzzling rivalries in African football. Cameroon wins the big games and Nigeria wins the small ones, at least not in a Cup final!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Youth and Promotion to Super Eagles

Nigeria has dominated youth soccer in the world and in Africa, in particular, churning out talented youth footballers in a conveyor belt. However, many of these players have failed to continue the same level of productivity at the most senior level. This leads us to three paths of investigation: (1) How soon does Nigeria promote its youth players to the most senior national team (Super Eagles)? and (2) Is there a relationship between time it takes to introduce a youth player at the most senior level and their degree of productivity? 

We have asked those two questions in response to the current media outcry to quickly promote recent U17 and U20 players to the full national team (FNT). We decided to look only at data from the last ten years. The last time Nigeria had massive promotion of youth players to the full national team, arguably, was in 2005 when several of them debuted in an international friendly against Benin Republic. In addition, Nigeria has also had a few players who appeared for the full national team before appearing for one of the national youth teams. These include Ahmed Musa, Uche Nwofor, and Chukwuma Akabueze.

Method: We only selected for this study youth players who appeared in either an African Youth Cup tournament or World Youth Cup tournament squad. Then we checked the date of their first game for the full national team. The time between their tournament appearance and their full national team appearance is the years to full national team(FNT) appearance e.g. Kenneth Omeruo appeared for the U17 in 2009 and U20 in 2011 and then debuted for full national team in 2013, thus, his time to FNT appearance is calculated as +4 from U17 and +2 from U20. To locate time it took U20 players of 2009 to reach the full national team (FNT) appearance is the sum of years it took all players from that squad to reach FNT divided by number of players who reached the FNT from that squad.

Results: Table 1 compares all players from youth squads since 2005. The table shows, expectedly, that it took U17 players longer, on average, to FNT. The exception is 2009 when it took U17 players less to get to FNT compared to U20 of same year. Note that 2009 was the year Nigeria hosted the U17 World Cup finals amid age cheating allegations. U20 squad of the same year had more players who went ahead to the FNT. However, their average to FNT is at 3 years and it is higher when compared to the U17 team which was at 2.5 years. The 2011 data shows an average of zero years to FNT for the U20 squad. In 2015, the only player to play for FNT is Kingsley Sokari who appeared for the FNT before playing for U20 and, thus, time to FNT is -1.0. For the U17 squads of 2011, 2013, and 2015 there is no player from those squads to play for the FNT as far as we know.

Table 2 compares U17/U20 (U17H/U20H)players who have appeared in 10 or more games for FNT to those who have appeared for less games for FNT. We find a confounding result. While those with high FNT appearances at U17 debuted later, on average, it was the opposite at the U20 level. 

In Table 3, we cleaned the data in the hopes of removing confounding data found in Table 2. Here we removed all players who recently debuted and, thus, may appear for the FNT in 10 or more games at a later time. In addition, we compared those with 10 or more games for FNT to only those who have played two or less games for the FNT (removed those who just appeared for FNT). Effectively, this compares players with sustainable performance to those who "flamed out" quick. The result is dramatic! We now see that players who appeared in less games for FNT, on average, debuted on average earlier than those who have player 10 or more games.

Table 4 lists several of the players in our data set. It does not include all the players in the set. What it does include are top 10 in the list of players who have a sustained FNT appearance and a top 10 of players who "flamed out."

What Did We Learn? Table 1 results were anticipated except for the aberration in 2009 data. However, Table 3 points to the possibility that youth players who debut later for the FNT are more likely to sustain their presence in the FNT than those who are fast tracked into the FNT and the result is stark at the U17 level. In fact, our data show that no U17 player who was introduced to the FNT in less than three years after appearing at a U17 tournament has been able to appear in 10 or more games at the FNT level in the last 10 years. However, at the U20 level we find that 13 of 14 players who sustained their FNT presence had debuted at the FNT level in three or less years removed from a U20 tournament (average = 1.07 years). Importantly, even at the U20 level where we found the above, we also found that players who flamed out after two or less games at the FNT level were fast tracked to the FNT in 0.5 years after a U20 tournament.