Friday, November 10, 2017

Nigeria Remains Unbeaten on the Road to the World Cup

Nigeria ended its World Cup qualifying schedule, again, unbeaten after a 1-1 draw against Algeria in Constantine. It was a game that would be quickly forgotten. It produced very little fireworks and had large stages of unorganized play by both teams. The field was atrocious with the ball bouncing unpredictably and passing by both teams was just as unpredictable. While it is easy to blame the poor field, the fact that several key players were missing on both sides may well have been significant in producing the poor display for a game that was supposedly a competitive encounter.

Nigeria had already qualified for the World Cup and, thus, this game was equivalent to an international friendly. It ended up even looking worse. However, it was enough to provide some insight on those who were on the field. Here are my thoughts:

Ikechukwu Ezenwa (16) -- 5.5 -- This was a horrific game for Ezenwa. In the first half, the Algerians had little to threaten him but his unreadiness was exposed in the second half. First, he clawed at a high ball to concede a cornerback (60th), then he failed to strongly grip another, and then dived and completely missed a cross to offer the Algerians a big chance from just about five yards out (67th).

Abdullahi Shehu (12) -- 6.4 -- Shehu had another confident outing and won numerous one-and-one encounters. Though, he was called for the penalty kick that led to the Algerian goal but the call was a controversial one. Shehu is gradually solidify his grip on the problematic right back position.

Ola Aina (2) -- 6.2 -- Aina had a reasonably good game and his one and one defending against Mahrez was a plus. It is quite obvious that he has the pace to keep up with fast attackers and the ability to contribute going forward. However, his ability to win contested high balls is definitely an issue and it showed in this game. Additionally, he has to make the right reads on when to join the attack. Overall, a good game.

William Troost-Ekong (5) -- 6.3 -- William is almost always a good decision maker at the heart of Nigeria's defense and he proved that today. He was very reliable cleaning up in defense.

Leon Balogun (cpt-6) -- 6.2 -- Leon captained the team today and started very jittery. It appeared that he was having monumental problems controlling the ball on the poor field but he played much better after a rather uncertain start to his day.

Oghenekaro Etebo (8) -- 6.2 -- This was thought to be an opportunity for Etebo to impress and force a consideration as a starter. He played well but not enough to win such a consideration. He was around the ball but most of his passes were just about five yards out and very little inventiveness to stretch the play with longer passes. Defensively, he won his share of balls.

John Ogu (19) -- 6.0 -- Ogu scored Nigeria's goal with a remarkable shot from 25 yards out but beyond that his play was unremarkable. He will surely be on the very edge fighting for the last spots to make the World Cup team.

Wilfred Ndidi (13) -- 7.0 -- Ndidi was all over the field in the opening half and I had him rated 7.5 but that fell off in the second half. However, it was clear that he was head and shoulders above the other midfielders. This guy recovers the ball more than anyone else on Nigeria's team. However, he also has a tendency to turn the ball over.

Alex Iwobi (18) -- 6.0 -- Iwobi was largely anonymous playing on the wide left of the midfield in the opening half. He was slightly better on the right after halftime before he was replaced. Alex had a big opportunity in the second half but fumbled his final ball as the poor field produced an unusual bounce forcing him to make a cross off his shin.

Anthony Nwaekeme (22) -- 6.0 -- He reminded me of a young Yakubu Aiyegbeni, running all day. However, for such a big fellow it is surprising that he hits the ball softly in front of goal. He will get another chance against Argentina but Ighalo will not be having any sleepless nights.

Kelechi Iheanacho (14) -- 6.2 -- Kelechi had his moments and was very good with his set pieces into the box. In the 40th minute he played a set-piece to Etebo but slipped on the poor field as Etebo set him free on the right. This combination set piece was a feature in a 2016victory over Tanzania where he and Musa combined on it a few times. This time the field prevented a good outcome in that exchange with Etebo. 

Onyekuru (11) -- 5.8 -- He was anonymous in the 20 minutes that he was on. However, in one single play (85th) he did remind everyone why he had been scoring in Europe. One turn to his right, dismissed an Algerian defender but his low shot was deflected into corner. Beyond that, nothing else was remarkable.

Ahmed Musa (7) -- x -- Musa was on the field for just 10 minutes and is unrated.

Coaching Crew -- 5.5 -- This game was poor on both sides. One has to credit the crew because Nigeria qualified and the team finished the qualifiers unbeaten. Both are admirable achievements. However, the team v Algeria played poorly for a large part of the game. If this was a 'friendly' why did the crew not use the opportunity to use up three substitution spots? Why did it take so long to bring in replacements? At this rate, some of the rarely used players may end up not playing against Argentina on Tuesday.