Before you close the book of oddities in 2020, include the Super Eagles. That it came to pass, on the 13th day of November 2020, just as at about when the sun was going to sleep on the rafters of the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium, Benin, the unexpected happened. To the bemusement and amusement of every Amaju, Dare and Shuaibu, Sierra Leone came from four goals down to draw against the Super Eagles.
It was supposed to be an exhibition of our new Nike ‘aso ebi’ jersey and the affluence of our players, but it ended in disgrace. Enough blames to go round but then what are the lessons to be learnt before this type of abomination happens again, starting from the return leg in Freetown in four days.
4-4-2; A Blessing, A Curse
Coach Gernot Rohr sprang a surprise with a 4-4-2 formation, and to his credit, it made the Eagles play at their attacking best. Alex Iwobi, Ahmed Musa, Victor Osimhen and Samuel Chukwueze swammed the Leone Stars defence to devastating effect. The quintet produced the four goals and were on a roll. With what looked like a four-man attack when the Eagles were on the front foot, the Eagles were left with two men in the middle and it looked like a 4-2-4 formation.
Even when the Eagles were on top of the game, it was evident that everytime the Leone Stars went on the attack, they got to the Super Eagles defence easily. The two men in the midfield did not do enough defensively, Joe Aribo was all over the place and Oghenekaro Etebo was overwhelmed. It is a formation that maybe could have worked better if there was a Wilfred Ndidi, who is an expert at screening defences. It is a formation that helps the Eagles attack well but it needs more disciplined midfielders.
Akpoguma Should Not Play At Right-back
Why should a center-back play at right-back when there were three right-backs on the bench? It seems Rohr or the NFF assured Kevin Akpoguma of a starting berth when they convinced him to switch allegiance to Nigeria. Or how else does one explain that in-form Ola Aina and Tyronne Ebuehi were kept on the bench for a player that did not convince in the position in the last two friendlies?
Akpoguma offered nothing in attack and did little in defence, were he should be more comfortable. While Zaidu Sanusi on the left gave the team an attacking outlet and contributed an assist, same can not be said of Akpoguma, who couldn’t utilize the space Chukwueze left out wide whenever he drove into the middle.
Maduka Okoye Is Not Ready
While the young goalie can’t be blamed for the capitulation, he did little to help the situation. He looked short on confidence and did not command his area very well.
He did well in the last two friendlies and duly earned a starting berth against Sierra Leone but he was probably overwhelmed by the occasion. He should have done better for at least two of the goals he conceded. Starting with the second leg in Freetown, Rohr may have to leave Maduka out while he continues to learn the ropes.
Rohr Remains Poor At In-game Reactions
Even without a coach, the Super Eagles should not squander a four-goal lead against Sierra Leone. However, the job of a coach is to make amends when it seems it is going bad.
For all the good job Rohr does with the team, his game management has always been in question and it came into play again. At the point when the Eagles started capitulating, Rohr did little or nothing tangible to stem the tide. None of his substitutions were tactically made to shore things up. He still made like-for-like changes and did not make a change to shore up the midfield that had collapsed. It also brings to the fore, his rationale for not inviting enough midfielders to camp in the first place. He was short of midfield options and could not improvise anything to block the loopholes. While he is not a bad coach and should be applauded for the good job he has done, the NFF must demand he improves or else he gets booted out.
It is not all gloom, the Super Eagles should still qualify for the AFCON but there are bigger picture. The AFCON proper and the World Cup qualifiers are the bigger stage and the Super Eagles can not afford to replicate this sort of performance on those stages.