Super Eagles performance was the perfect reaction we expected after the listless showing against Croatia. The players were hurt by the criticism and the best way to show this was to inflict the anger on Iceland which they did in emphatic fashion.
We expected not just a change in performance, we also expected a change in attitude from the players and change in formation and tactics from the coach. At the end of the day, we got all of these and more.
The three-man defence was outstanding, regardless of the minor errors which we noticed. Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun did excellently well. And, in midfield, Mikel Obi led like a true leader. Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi also supported him well. Victor Moses on the right and Brian Idowu on the left (in the first half) did great. The team struggled a bit in the first half due to the fact that the players were trying to get used to that particular tactical formation. So, coupled with the performance and backlash from the last game, the players were wary of making mistakes so it affected their game.
When they settled down in the second half, with Tyronne Ebuehi coming in, we saw a totally different team. They moved the ball quickly and, like I said before the game, their transition really helped to get the result they wanted. That was what led to the two goals becuase that was our strongest points. Quickly breaking after winning the ball is a key feature of our game. The quick break and cross by Moses for Musa, the excellent control and drilling of the shot into the net was classic. The second goal also came from another quick break.
Musa’s introduction was a stroke of genuis. His speed was excellent and the calmness he showed in scoring the second goal was remarkable. Iheanacho was calling for the ball but he knew what he wanted to do and set about doing it. If he passed and Iheanacho failed to score, he would have blamed himself for passing. If he took the ball himself and didn’t score, we would have have been mad at him. He made his decision and stood by it. Sometimes it is good for forwards to be selfish like that. He showed composure and presence of mind.
Musa could have easily scored an hattrick which would have made it a perfect day for Nigeria. He hit the crossbar and could have got one or two more but it’s all good. They did the needful. Let us reserve the rest for Argentina.
Apart from Musa, I think the three-man defence did well, especially Omeruo. I knew Omeruo’s ability before but giving the fact that he had not gotten too much playing time and the low confidence levels in the team before the game, I was surprised he could raise his game like that. I loved the way he played. He was solid and anticipated well, winning key headers in the game.
Ebuehi also surprised me. He’s naturally a right-footed player but he came in for Idowu on the left and was a perfect fit in that position. A young player with exuberance, you would have expected him to stray but he kept to the game plan faithfully, going forward when the game demanded and returning promptly to the defence. He showed so much confidence.
Ndidi was solid in midfield, alongside Etebo and Mikel but that shouldn’t come to anyone as a surprise. We all know Ndidi’s quality but maybe his injury worry before the World Cup is why his performance surprised me.
There were three changes from the team that started the first game against Croatia and I’m tempted to say we should stick with this team for the game against Argentina. Afterall, they say, you don’t change a winning team and we also have to consider injuries. However, in fairness to the coach, we don’t know what tactics he plans to use against the Argentines and these players may not be a perfect fit for his plans so we have to wait and see how he lines up his team on that day. Having said that, I will still like to see Ebuehi continue his good work in the team. Another one is Alex Iwobi. I want to see him starting the game.
Talking about Argentina, mathematically a draw should see us through to the next round but it would be a mistake to go into the game playing for a draw. We need to aim higher than that. If you aspire very low, you might be shocked. Yea, Argentina have not set this World Cup alight and they cannot explain what happened to them against Croatia but they are still a very good team with great players so we cannot afford to be complacent. We have to play Argentina like a Cup final. A team with Lionel Messi, Aguero etal cannot be toyed with. They will come at us like wounded lions after the 3-0 humiliation from Croatia. Besides, they still have a score to settle with us for defeating them in that friendly game last November.
The Eagles should not be complacent and judge Argentina by their
result against Croatia. We are going to face our toughest game in the World Cup against them so we should prepare like it is a final. We must be perfect on the day to win the game.
The 3-5-2 is a formation that the Eagles appear to love playing so I subscribe that we deploy it against Argentina since we seem to be at our best playing it. However, we must be wary of Argentina too for they would have studied us and prepared a counter-plan against our formation. The good thing is that the Super Eagles have options to switch to if one formation is not working. Whatever plans we decide to play, we must be near-perfect because Messi and co will pounce on any mistakes we make.
Argentina will start with the intention of going for early goals but this 3-5-2 allows us to get more bodies into the middle of the park. If we win the battle there, we are almost home and dry.
One other thing I must point out. Gernot Rohr endured a difficult week following the game against Croatia but when you are the coach of Nigeria, you are under extreme pressure to win always because we are a country of 180million people who are crazy about our football. The manager is always under constant scrutiny and is always the first target of angry fans when things go wrong.
Rohr is a professional and well-exposed so he should be used to the emotions and passions of Nigerians. It happens everywhere. I believe in what he’s done and what he’s doing now. So we have to congratulate him and give kudos to the boys too. They should enjoy this moment before getting back to work to prefer for the big one coming up next Tuesday.
Mutiu Adepoju, former Super Eagles player, was in the Nigerian team that faced Argentina at the 1994 World Cup in the USA.