By Ola Opesan
Gernot Rohr’s biggest achievement with the Super Eagles is crafting a sensible, disciplined and organised team. Even in their first World Cup game in 1994, which was won by three unreplied goals. Bulgaria had more clear-cut chances than the Eagles faced against Croatia.
Against Croatia, scoreable chances were at a premium for both teams. In fact, there was only one one-on-one in the whole match in yesterday’s 2-0 loss. This occurred at a time when the contest was nigh over and both sets of players were probably starting to reflect on the night’s performance than seeking to affect the result.
Our ghost of tournaments’ past – set pieces – returned to haunt us, indeed, taunt us with double-faced mockery and misery. Etebo, arguably our best player on the night, was cruelly credited with the first goal, when all he did was close down a player about to head a second ball within the six-yard box. To allow the opposition the first and second touch inside the penalty box from a corner can often prove costly. Alas, the Eagles were duly punished.
Maybe a senior player or a member of the coaching staff needs to pull Moses aside and remind him that he’s a baller, not a ballerina. If he focuses on going for goal and an unfair hindrance causes a fall, then he’d be more likely to get the decision. With the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) inviting contact could be inviting a card.
A set-piece in each half resulted in the Super Eagles losing their opening match. Under fire and uncertain from all the corners delivered directly into the box, Ekong tried to minimise the danger from Croatia’s danger man by executing a Yuko. While such a move might gain you a point on the mat, on the pitch, players are penalised.
Saturday’s performance raised many questions. Could the keeper have helped out his defenders by coming to fist a few of the corners? Attackers usually think twice when they see a keeper approach with intent. Also, referees usually treat keepers as a protected species in such situations, hence, many keepers get a favourable call even if they fumble the ball.
Should Mikel be granted an automatic shirt? For over a decade he has been at the heart of many of Nigeria’s best performances at Under-21 and senior level. Recently, he has struggled to make a telling contribution for the full ninety minutes.
Stephen Keshi’s legacy would forever be the blending of European-based players with stars from Nigeria’s top teams to engineer Nigeria’s third Africa Cup of Nations win. Against Croatia, no one in the Nigerian team seemed ready to write his name in lights or hustle a move to a big club. A certain hunger and verve was missing from our prosaic performance.
Orderliness is a virtue on and off the pitch, but teams that excel at international level, where pushovers no longer exist, need a few players or a player ready to leave the safety of the nest, spread its wings and give full expression to why it was created.
Eagles are supposed to be maverick and not afraid of flying alone. They possess a fierce individual streak. This composed team needs to find a way to include individual flair. Under the influence of Dutch coaches in the 1990s, the Super Eagles were sometimes kamikaze, but rarely predictable.
Maybe the Eagles do not possess the stamina for a high pressing game, but as Ruud Gullit, another coach from the land of total football, would say: football is about moments. The Super Eagles need to discern the right moments to create an overload or strike with pace to turn the tide against exiting at the group stage.
On Saturday the team was devoid of Nigeria’s traditional attributes of pace, power and hustle. Is Mr. Rohr trying to mould another (Die) Mannschaft? Cloning hardly works in football. The Germans do what they do best. Nigeria needs to find the best combination to consistently win matches.
While I believe there are coaches in Nigeria that should be given a chance to handle the Super Eagles, if the NFF is insistent on hiring an expat coach, maybe it’s time to once more consider going dutch.