Friday, May 14, 2021

Five talking points from Nigeria’s loss to England


tiamin rice

Football always is a game of two halves, literally at least, but at the iconic Wembley Stadium it slipped into the figurative. Chelsea defender Gary Cahill headed England in front in the seventh minute, while Harry Kane squeezed a shot under Francis Uzoho to double the Three Lions lead in the first half in a forgettable half for Nigeria. The Super Eagles produced an improved performance after half time changes in personnel and shape against England. Alex Iwobi tucked away a rebound after Odion Ighalo hit the post from Iwobi’s delicately chipped pass to halve the deficit. The Super Eagles couldn’t rev themselves further to find an equaliser as the game ended in another loss to England at Wembley Stadium. Here are five talking points from the match.

Iwobi shows Rohr his place is in at the heart of the Super Eagles midfield

For the opening 20 minutes, the Super Eagles’ players looked incapable of holding onto the ball for more than five seconds. Only Iwobi was brave enough to hold the ball at his feet, venture forward to pick a pass and actually complete the pass. The Arsenal man had even more influence in the game after his brief changed. Iwobi filled a more central role and conducted most of the Super Eagles promising attacks with his smart movement with the ball and eye for pass. His chipped pass to Ighalo in two minutes into an invigorated second half showing from the team was an antithesis to the poor passing form the entire team in the first half. Ighalo latched onto the pass before he brilliantly held off Kyle Walker to rattle the post from a difficult angle. Iwobi was quick to prod home the rebound to begin Nigeria’s ascent from their nadir in the first half.

Missing Joel Obi could have played himself out of the World Cup

Well, we saw him clash heads with Leon Balogun but there was little else from Joel Obi, once lauded as the creative messiah for the Super Eagles. His lack of coordination was stunning, the Torino man looked lost and out of place in the Super Eagles team. His so-so showing the Serbia game, his unimpressive performance against DR Congo and his god-awful play at Wembley have been instructive. Joel Obi is no savior, perhaps he is himself in need of saving. Rohr briskly whisked him off at half time and that might be the clearest indication that the German manager has had enough of his nonperformance; definitely Obi will not be with the team at Russia.

Onazi’s deplorable performance raises perennial question about his inclusion

Out with the knives and pitchforks again, fans were quick to berate Onazi for his mindless, uncoordinated and depressingly repellant performance. He was the chief destructor: passing moves broke at his feet and he was largely inept even in the basics, his dithering on the ball led to Harry Kane’s goal, though Francis Uzoho was complicit. He failed in what he mostly is excellent at, his unique selling point: snuffing out the ball with his energy and tackling. It was a game to forget for Onazi, but not for the fans, who again raised the age old question, ‘Why is Onazi anywhere near the starting lineup?’

Ebuehi’s balanced showing could trump Shehu’s conservatism

Ebuehi continues to be on the rise, mounting enough pressure to put him in the starting lineup conversation. It was even more revealing in the game when he excelled where his rival Shehu Abdullahi failed. It was more evident who was the natural right back; Shehu left Ashley Young acres of space on the right in the first half while Ebuehi defended astutely and offered width in attack. Though it could be argued that Ebuehi benefitted from a stronger second half performance from the Super Eagles as well as a change in shape that countered the English side but Shehu has always been the more measured, conservative defender that offers little in attack. Perhaps, Rohr could shuffle both of them depending on the opposition.

Ogu’s quality is worth an inclusion in the starting line up

Ogu was majestic in all his glory, masterfully and calmly shifting the ball from his centre-back role into the midfield. Yes, you read right centre-back. Rohr brought on Ogu to play as the third centre back in a raft of reactionary changes in the second half. The Hapoel Be’er Sheva midfielder fit in perfectly and exuded an aura that is needed in the starting lineup of the Super Eagles. Ogu has been marginalized by Rohr barely getting a footing in the side but a meld of Onazi’s poor performance, Wilfred Ndidi’s injury, Joel Obi’s reprehensible game and Ogu’s good showing should have the coach giving the Israeli League winner more opportunity in the side.

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