Friday, January 22, 2016

1-1 Tie but a Reminder of March in Abuja....

Nigeria tied Tunisia 1-1 in a CHAN Group game today in far away Rwanda but in many ways the game is a reminder of what to expect when Egypt comes calling for a Nations Cup qualifier in Abuja next March. Of course Egypt is not Tunisia nor is the current Egyptian coach a clone of previous Egyptian coaches. However, North African football appears eerily similar when they play. 

Today, you could almost swear that you were watching the 2010 Nations Cup game when Nigeria lost 1-3 to Egypt. Nigeria did better this time because it refused to take the bait and be suckered into a highline defending that Egypt of 2010 exploited with balls over the top after leisurely playing around with the ball in their defense. Tunisia sought the gaps in Nigeria's defense but failed to find them regularly in the opening half but they found other ways to attack. They exploited gaps left by Akas going forward. Upfront, the abundant spaces in the wide positions that Nigeria exploited against Niger Republic disappeared against Tunisia. Not only did Tunisia defend wide, they often doubled down with atleast two defenders when the ball got to Nigeria's wide forwards. Thus, the dribbling runs by Aggreh were non-existent.

To Nigeria's credit, the play in the middle was good with Ifeanyi and Usman doing very well to find spaces in the middle of Tunisia's defense and also when Tunisia pressed looking for the equalizer, Nigeria countered with speed and if decisions were more clinical it would have led to a certain win. Here is how I rate the individual players and the coaching crew using very brief descriptors. 

Ike Ezenwa (1) 6.2 -- Except for one flap at a high ball he was very assured in goal. It is clear that his position in the "A" team is not a fluke. This is a good goal keeper.

Mathew Etim (14) 6.2 -- Very assured in one and one defending and provided some support to Osas Okoro going forward.

Augustine Oboroakpo (5) 6.3 -- He was very strong in defense both in the air and on the ground. His anticipation needs a bit of work but he earned his spot in today's game.

Stephen Eze (21) 5.8 -- Stephen was poor covering a range of space particularly down his left when Akas was caught off by the Tunisian counter in the first period. He was duly substituted at the start of the second half. Going by Oliseh's antecedent, one expected him to be off before the whistle for interval. However, he was spared that ignominy.

Chima Akas (cpt -3) 6.2 -- I rate him high here, even though he was responsible for leaving gaping holes in the opening period because of being caught off in counters. The rating is based on his one and one defending and his support in attack which was important.

Kalu Orji (2) 6.0 -- He was a major upgrade over Eze as he had the pace to cover the range of space that Eze failed to cover. However, he made a mess of two opportunities clearing the ball out of danger and had difficulties in the air. Beyond those, he was solid.

Paul Onobi (10) 6.0 -- Onobi was very quiet but provided an outlet for playing the ball out of the defense and generally shielded the defense from attack. However, he has an annoying and lazy approach when receiving the ball. Some may call it confidence but it can also be dangerous.

Usman Mohammed (4) 6.5 -- He was very active in the middle until being replaced after what appears to be an injury to the groin area. Usman often interchanged with Ifeanyi as the most advanced midfield player.

Bartholomew Ibenegbu (12) 6.0 -- Nothing spectacular but made a move that freed him on goal in the 82nd minute but failed to convert. 

Mathew Ifeanyi (8) 7.0 -- In my opinion, the best Nigerian player on the field today even though he appeared to fade down the stretch. His ball distribution is vital to the team's possession play but it is important that his incisive passing is also consistently provided in very advanced position. This has yet to be the case.

Osas Okoro (17) 6.3 -- Osas had very little space to operate in the opening half but provided the assist that led to the goal and began to find the space when Tunisia chased the game.

Chisom Chikatara (13) 6.4 -- This kid has the speed of a sprinter and an eye for goal. Importantly, he showed his technique getting around defenders on a few occasions. However, he was trapped off sides several times and his ability to hold up the ball is below average. Importantly, he also appears to have a problem weighing his passes appropriately. However, his goal and overall activity deserves a high rating.

Prince Aggreh (7) 5.8 -- Aggreh was largely anonymous today as the Tunisians limited the type of space provided in the Niger Republic game. He was eventually replaced late in the game.

Ezekeil Bassey (11) X -- Not rated as he played less than 15 minutes in the game.

Oliseh's coaching crew - 6.0 - His advantages in the Niger Republic game were nullified. To the credit of the bench, the Nigerian team was largely disciplined in checking the early tactical bait used by the Tunisians. While the defense was good when assessing individual players, there are concerns with awareness of Tunisian attackers deep in the box.

Monday, January 18, 2016

CHAN: Impressive Start and Perhaps a Gaze at Oliseh and Tomorrow..

Nigeria's 4-1 win over Niger Republic in Kigali today provided a gaze into Oliseh and his team for this tournament. While this was not Nigeria's A squad, it is the same coach and same ideas and today those ideas began to come to the fore. The dream of pacy wingers, using Simon and Musa in the A team, exploded today with Okoro and Aggreh pointing the way with explosive runs that constantly troubled Niger's defense. Niger thought it had the problem solved with the high trap after 20 minutes but Nigeria rebounded in the second half.

The ball possession, playing from the back and through the middle appear different from Keshi's approach with long balls over the top. For Oliseh, it is working the ball from deep and then finding the gaps wide to the pacy wide players. Against Niger today, it worked like magic.

Today, Oliseh showed again that he was not tolerant of mistakes. To replace a player before the half time whistle is not something usual with Nigeria's team. In fact before Oliseh, the last time I saw such a decision (bar injury) was Shuaibu Amodu sending Anichebe to the bench before interval in a World Cup qualifier against South Africa in Abuja in 2008. Already, in one year of managing the Eagles, Oliseh has taken players off before halftime on three occasions. Today, he sent Alimi to the bench before it was 17 minutes on the clock!

The above is just a quick look at Oliseh's team in Nigeria's opening game. Below, I provide the player ratings (1-5) as I saw it.

Ikechukwu Ezenwa (1) -- 3.5 -- He was excellent controlling the crosses and exhibited very confident play around his box. He was forced into one important save in the 6th minute when Alimi was indecisive and a Niger striker struck a surprise volley.

Mathew Etim (14) --3.0 -- He was not called on to do much but adjusted from wide back to centre back when Alimi was hauled off.

Stephen Eze (21) -- 3.2 -- He started slowly and gave up three free kicks before 19 minutes but settled down to make his mark in the center of the defense. Appears slow and lumbering but was a very active and determined tackler. He wins absolutely every thing in the air.

Jamiu Alimi (6) -- 2.0 -- He was very poor today. He was slow and then indecisive and almost gave up a goal very early. He was then booked in just 9 minutes. By the 16th minute, Oliseh had seen enough and sent him to the bench early.

China Akas (cpt-3) -- 3.5 -- Chima played like a captain. He was decisive and provided width going forward. In the 66th minute, he saved a certain goal when Niger carved Nigeria's defense open but Chima appeared quickly to foil an attacker who was set to score.

Kalu Orji (2) -- 2.8 -- Kalu replaced Jamiu and did his share but was not spectacular and failed to provide little assistance going forward.

Paul Onobi (10) -- 3.2 -- Paul provided steady cover for the defense and distributed the ball confidently. Paul and Ifeanyi provided the all important link to help work passes behind the NIger defense.

Mathew Ifeanyi (8) -- 4.2 -- Ifeanyi was magnificent today coordinating the  middle and setting up the wide players for runs. Importantly, this is a player that can play both the long and short passes and with the keen sense to switch the play quickly.

Bartholomew Ibenegbu (12) -- 2.8 --Ibenegbu's performance was nothing to write about. Appeared transfixed in positions and a few passes badly misplaced and did not win many balls.

Usman Mohammed (4) --3.0 --Usman played barely 20 minutes after replacing Ibenegbu but did some running and put in far more effort. Had one opportunity to score but the final pass failed to come from Chikatara in the 83rd minute.

Osas Okoro (17) -- 4.6 -- The man of the match. He converted the opening goal and then assisted in the next two. A third possible assist went to nought when Chikatara failed to convert in the 87th minute.

Tunde Adeniji (9) -- 2.5 -- Guilty of straying offsides several times in the opening half when Niger began to set the trap. He suffered from very few services through the middle but also guilty of not making key runs. In the second half, however, he provided a very important assist that led to the opening goal before being substituted.

Chisom Chikatara (13) -- 4.2 -- Chisom had a spectacular hat trick but his effort, pace, and timed runs could have led to more goals if he was more clinical. This kid is a handful for defenders.

Prince Aggreh (7) -- 3.5 -- Aggreh was very dangerous on the ball with his technique and pace, particularly in the opening half. He was guilty of some selfish play in that half by seeking glory when it seemed easier to find open attackers in the box. He later provided the assist for the fourth goal.

Coaching Crew led by Oliseh -- 4.0 -- The coaches had the team playing the ball with passes out of their half and exploiting gaps in the wide areas up front. They appeared stomped when Niger responded after 20 minutes with a high offside traps. This they solved in the second half with more awareness and better timed runs.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Nigeria and the CHAN Effect.......

This month Nigeria will again participate in the African Nations Championship (CHAN) that will be hosted in Rwanda. This second tier championship for African states is restricted to locally-based players only. In Nigeria's group will be Tunisia, Guinea, and Niger Republic. 

The competition was not initially designed for countries like Nigeria. Instead, it was designed for the weaker footballing countries that often are eliminated early in continental competition and, therefore, spend months of football inactivity. This is, particularly, a reason why qualification is regionally-based to provide opportunities for regions with weaker footballing countries to play at the final stages of the competition. 

It is based on the above that many question the value of the competition for a country like Nigeria. In fact, several writers suggest that the competition has no value to Nigeria's football.

The question is how true is the statement: "has no value to Nigeria's football"? Is this statement supported by data? In order to assess this, we develop a measure for "value to Nigeria's football."

Nigerian football officials argue that the CHAN not only prepares local footballers for a reasonable level of competition against "A teams" of some African countries (i.e. countries with no or few foreign-based players) but in doing so prepares Nigerian local players to compete for places in Nigeria's own "A team."

We argue that "value" can be measured by percentage of minutes that local-based footballers earn in Nigeria's "A team" (The main national team - Super Eagles) in a competitive environment.

The widely held view is that Nigeria's best footballers are foreign-based and, thus, the expectation should be that minutes expended on the field for the "A team" by local players should be minimal. Therefore, a value of 20% of such minutes is logically significant considering the above assumption. Below, we describe our method for calculating percentage (%) of game minutes.

For each game, there are 990 minutes available in ordinary circumstance i.e. 11 players x 90 minutes each. The total number of minutes will increase in an extra time game to 120 minutes. To arrive at the % of minutes played by a local player, we take the sum of minutes played by all players attached to a local Nigerian club at the time of the match. A player like Godfrey Oboabona who was a local player when he played for Nigeria will not have any of his minutes counted after he joined Rizespor in Turkey. Thus, this measure may not fully capture the long term impact of the CHAN. In any case, the sum of percentage of minutes is annualized and then divided by the annualized total minutes in games played by Nigeria to arrive at the percentage (%) of minutes for the local player. 

The inaugural CHAN tournament took place in 2009 and, thus, we collected our data seven years prior (2002-2008) and seven years post (2009-2015) for comparison purposes.

The general result is shown in the table. Percentages are calculated for all games and then for the international friendlies and for the competitive games. The line graph shows the trend of percentage of minutes played by the local player in a competitive game. This graph is important as it captures the trend in using local players for games which count towards Nigeria's success or failure in a major competition.

We note that the percentage of minutes has increased since 2010 (one year after the first CHAN finals) and reached great heights in 2012 with Nigeria's first qualification for the CHAN finals. Of course, during this period of increase Nigeria went on to win the Cup for African Nations (CAN) and qualify for the Round of 16 in the World Cup.

But it is important to note that there was also  a high percentage of minutes in 2003 and 2004 when the CHAN did not exist! So what accounts for this 'anomaly'? This is important considering our earlier argument that foreign-based players are better and that the CHAN is the appropriate environment that prepares local players to compete with "A team" players? Well, this 'anomaly' is explained because the 2003-2004 period coincides with a dark period in Nigeria's football when local players were used, not by design, but by necessity. At the time, invited foreign-based players repeatedly and in the late minutes declined invitations to play and left the national team coach (Christian Chukwu) to scramble around for local replacements not minding the quality of those local replacements. This is very different from the careful plan to integrate local players with the "A Team" that has existed in recent time. Further, though Nigeria began participating in the CHAN since 2008, there was no plans to integrate local players to the "A team" and, thus, the low number of minutes for locally-based players in that period until 2011 when Nigeria began to significantly integrate local players in training with foreign-based players to appropriately assess competitive quality.

It is obvious that the perception that Nigeria's home-based players are significantly worse than foreign-based players cannot be supported, at least by statistics nor can it be fully supported by match result-logics. For instance, our data shows that the period of increasing use of local-based players coincides with important achievements for the national team as mentioned earlier. We look at three critical games where a significant number of home-based players were used by Nigeria without embarrassing results as may have been anticipated -- Italy (360 minutes), Ivory Coast (990) and Peru (857). All those surpassed the value of 20% (198 minutes), which we set as a threshold for value determination. Contrast that with meagre presence by local-based players in poor home results against Congo Rep (17), Guinea (0), and South Africa (90). Additionally, examine their presence in the draw against Swaziland (0) versus the win against the same team (273). Of course, there are different circumstances that may explain the results above but one thing is clear, while one may not argue that home-based players are better than foreign-based counterparts, the fact is that several home-based players are comparatively good and cannot and should not be ignored.

Second, the purposeful camping of home-based players for the CHAN has certainly provided opportunity to positively impact the "A Team" of Nigeria as shown by percentage of minutes increasingly allocated to home-based players in competitive games during a period that the Nigerian national team has done well in two critical competitions -- the 2013 CAN and the 2014 World Cup. Conversely, the poor results at home that doomed the "A Team" in critical qualifying games for the 2012 CAN and 2015 CAN saw the absence of these locally-based players. While the poor results may not be solely based on this absence (see Effects of International Friendlies), it may well have helped with their presence since their long-term camping provides "team chemistry," particularly in the absence of preparatory games.