By James Agberebi:
After huge expectations from Nigerian football fans that finally, the country has the team that can will put old nemesis Brazil in their place in the U-20 World Cup (after losing three previous encounters and drawing one), it wasn't to be as the Flying Eagles were taught some bitter football lessons as they lost 4-2 despite taking the lead at some point in the game. Littered with some exciting talents, it was widely agreed that the current crop have what it takes to match the Junior Selecao, skill for skill and eventually secure our first ever victory against them, especially coming into the U-20 World Cup as African champions but it wasn't to be for the Coach Manu Garba-led side.
Instead, what was served millions of Nigerians who decided stay up to watch the Group E clash was calamitous goalkeeping, poor defending and tactical ineptitude of Nigerian coaches on the big stage.
The question on everyone's lips after the reality check was, what went wrong? Why did the team show promise in the early exchanges of the game before finally surrendering?
Well, here are five possible reasons which probably cost the Flying Eagles a first win against Brazil at this level.
USING THE QUARTET OF TAIWO AWONIYI, ISAAC SUCCESS, KELECHI IHEANACHO AND MUSA YAHAYA:
The Flying Eagles are known for their brilliant style of counter-attacking football that was breathless and exciting to watch. And with the attacking formation put out by Manu Garba, that comprises talents like Kelechi Iheanacho, Taiwo Awoniyi, Isaac Success and Musa Yahaya, it was expected that they should do enough to overrun the Brazilian defence.
As expected, the Flying Eagles were all over their opponent as chances after chances were created with the team even coming from a goal down to take the lead. But it soon became clear that the coach made a mistake using all four players in one match, as there was nobody else to call from the bench when the team were in need of fresh ideas upfront.
THE BRAZILIAN COACH ADJUSTED HIS TACTICS AT HALF TIME
The Brazilians' intentions from the kick-off was to finish the game off as quickly as possible. They were so confident of themselves that they played a high pressing game that saw their defenders keep a high line. The approach seemed to backfire as the Flying Eagles ran rings round them, with breath-taking attacks which resulted in two goals and also missed chances.
On resumption of the second half, the Brazilians were all over the Flying Eagles, as they crowded the midfield and made use of the wings effectively which eventually paid off with the only two goals in the second half going to the Brazilians.
A FLYING EAGLES MIDFIELD THAT WAS NON-EXISTENT
One major mistake that was made by the Flying Eagles coach was the idea of making use of just two midfielders in Ifeanyi Mathew and Mathew Mathew. At the African Youth Championship in Senegal, one of the reasons why the team was so difficult to beat was the compactness of their midfield. The midfield was the first wall of the defence as opponents found it hard to penetrate them. But why the coach decided to go with a two-man midfield against a technically gifted and tactically sound team like the Brazilians, baffles not a few.
THE FLYING EAGLES DEFENCE WAS EXPOSED
Prior to the start of the tournament, one area of the Flying Eagles which Manu Garba was having sleepless nights was in the defence. Even at the AYC in Senegal, the Flying Eagles were suspect in defence, but it was difficult to note this by their opponents as they were well screened by a well organized midfield.
But against Brazil, they were all over the place as they couldn't cope with the wave of attacks coming from the Brazilians, no thanks to the midfielders who were having a torrid time containing them.
JOSHUA ENAHOLO LET THE TEAM DOWN
At the AYC, Joshua Enaholo was the standout keeper, making spectacular saves. Even when he was replaced by Ojo Olorunleke following a sending off in the second game, it was a general sigh of relief when he was back between the sticks in the semi-fianl. But on Monday, Enaholo was all nerves as he looked a shadow of himself, commiting one error after another. He was a liability on set pieces as the Brazilians discovered.
Enaholo eventually capped a poor day at the office by conceding two cheeky goals which decided the outcome of the game.
Having said all these, there is the general belief that the team can bounce back from this early set back as they are not going to be facing the Brazilians any time soon. And with what they displayed in the early part of the game against Brazil, not many teams will be able to withstand the attacking threat they possess. All the coaching crew need to do now is try and make amends ahead of their next game against North Korea.