Friday, June 16, 2017

Hahahaha: Evaluating Perceived Reasons Why Nigeria Lost to South Africa.....

Every Nigerian loss is followed by clairvoyant reasons dredged up to explain the loss. It isn't one reason but a multiple of reasons that usually come up. This tyranny of explanations can go from the logical to the bizarre. Thus, the explanations that emerged after a 0-2 loss to South Africa in Uyo was expectedly full of reasons. Below I identify them, as many as can be remembered. I examine each one, and then award a grade. Admittedly, my grading of each is subjective but I provide a rational for each grade:

Visitors' match balls
The players reportedly slammed the Federation for not providing approved match balls for practice and for the game. Instead, the Federation borrowed balls from the visiting South African team. While balls may be different in how they are made, the difference at this level is quite minuscule. If the South Africans had the ball advantage, how about Nigerians having the field advantage? This is simply a tale by the moonlight for which a grade of D is the maximum for such a tale.

Inexperienced players
Okay, the reported average age of the Nigerian players was less than the age for the South Africans. However, is experience based on age or appearances for the national team? Generally, players at 23 are not disadvantaged playing against 28 year olds. Age difference in performance is more distinctive at the teen level and below but not at the full adult level. How about number of appearances? Only one Nigerian player has less than six appearances and that is Awaziem! All others except three have no less than 10 appearances! How about South Africa? They have players with more appearances but not by much more. Further, the Nigerians have had more exposure playing against top level players than South Africans who have largely played against African opposition. Thus, I will give this tale a grade of C.

Absence of Mikel Obi
Yea, Mikel was missed if you read the papers. He would have been the calming voice and the organizer. Both are true but would he have prevented defeat? What did he do when Nigeria lost at home to Congo a few years ago? What did he do when Nigeria struggled to tie South Africa at the same Uyo a few years back? Moreover, Mikel has already spoken that this tale tends to undervalue the rest of the players. Moreover, South Africans are largely exposed to local and African football compared to Nigerians who play in Europe. Thus, is this tale of Mikel being a difference maker worth a high score? I say "No, No". Best grade is a C-.

Uyo is "cursed"
To be sure, Nigeria's home record at Uyo is atrocious compared to other cities. But to claim that Uyo is cursed and for to run a story of a man explaining the curse is the height of the bizarre. While Uyo is not a happy home ground for the team, it is a stretch to call it a curse. This earns an F. Call it the loss an unfortunate result at Uyo, then I might consider a higher grade but F it is if called a "curse."

The Weekend Off granted to players
There are reports that the weekend off after the team arrived in Nigeria from the France camp was reason for the defeat. The players were reported unfit after just two days off! Ridiculous report, to state the least. These are players who had been with their clubs for a long season and then camped for weeks in Europe with the Nigerian national team and yet a day or two off leads to being out of shape? Best grade is a C-.

It was the Muslim Players Fasting
The fact that Musa did not start because Coach Rohr did not want to start two fasting players (The other was Shehu) has been fingered as reason for the loss. In essence, had Musa started, Nigeria would have won. Was this not the same Musa that had been pilloried in the press? Was it not the same Musa that hardly saw the field during the season at Leicester? Please spin another story. This earns a D. It isn't as if Musa usually gives more than Moses Simon gave against South Africa.

Coach's player selection
Why did Coach Rohr select Awaziem over Omeruo and Onyekuru was not even selected to be a substitute. These were the points made to support 'poor player' selection by Rohr. After all, Onyekuru was scoring like crazy for Eupen in the Belgian league! Well, from training reports, it was clear that Awaziem's performance was leading to a starting spot and Omeruo was training with the team as well. Onyekuru played against Corsica and then against Togo but was not particularly distinguished nor did he score. Perhaps, I should give this a C+ based on the Omeruo argument since there are coaches who prefer team chemistry and stability and that is what Omeruo would have given in the absence of Balogun but the Onyekuru argument is a non-starter.

Coach's Poor Tactics
Coach Rohr got his tactics wrong and his substitutions were late according to several media. Which tactics did he get wrong? One, playing Iheanacho as a lone striker when the team was home. Two, featuring three midfielders who were not creative types. Three, not instructing a defender in safety position on the second South African goal. But Rohr had changed the effectiveness of Nigeria since he was appointed and was unbeaten until South Africa arrived. Was Iheanacho not the lone striker v Algeria when Nigeria scored three times? Well, watching the game provides support for all the three points because (1) Iheanacho failed to win battles against the defense and seemed lost and with South Africa predictably siting back, there was a clear opportunity to use two strikers instead of an isolated striker, (2) Service to Iheanacho was poor and created a situation where South Africa had better opportunities in the game, and (3) the second goal was preventable if the elementary tactic of using a safety defender was in play. For this, one has to give an A- because Rohr had produced excellent results prior to South Africa game.

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