SoccerTalk by Mumini Alao:
As a Nigerian, I think it is proper to be proud of the Super Eagles performance in the game against England at Wembley on Saturday.
It was a game of two halves. In the first half, England were utterly dominant and could have drowned Nigeria in a sea of goals. They scored two and dominated the game throughout the first half. On the basis of their first half showing, I will score the Super Eagles one over 10.
However, in the second half, Gernot Rohr showed why he’s the real MVP of this team by switching from an ineffective 4-3-3 formation to a 3-5-2 system which paid huge dividends for the Super Eagles. They clearly dominated the second hald and deserved more than the lone goal they scored in that half. They scored a five out of 10 for a cumulative six overall which is not a bad result.
Now, by their performances in that game, the players have given the coach very interesting choices to make.
In goal, Francis Uzoho showed how much progress he’s made and why he deserved to be the number one goalkeeper at the World Cup. He punched and parried all he could and also showed remarkable calmness and composure under attack.
Probably due to the formation deployed in the first half, some of the players were not at their best. The Eagles were tentative, not composed and always second best at all balls that they should be competing for.
Tyronne Ebuehi came on for Shehu Abdullahi and showed that he’s as good or even better than Shehu, depending on the formation played. We saw him bomb forward from the right flank which Shehu didn’t do much of in the first half so Rohr must be scratching his head about who to start in that position between the two of them.
Idowu was fairly stable on the left side in both halves and I think he may have made the decision for the coach by his performance.
In central defence, we have always asked if we could survive the absence of either half of our Oyinbo Wall should any of them not be available. That question was answered admirably at Wembley. Leon Balogun was injured in the first half but managed to finish the half before being substituted. We saw the Eagles switch to a three-man defence with Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong and John Ogu who was playing in an unfamiliar role. Surprise, surprise, Ogu held his own against the English attackers and fitted in perfectly into that position. By his performance, Ogu may have forced himself into Rohr’s starting 11 should he consider going 3-5-2.
Omeruo was also outstanding in that three-man defence and hardly put a foot wrong. This was a different player from the error-prone Omeruo who always struggled in a four-man defence.
Sadly, Ogenyi Onazi did not cover himself in glory in this game. He was uncharacteristically wasteful, giving the ball away more times than I could count. He was also directly at fault for Harry Kane’s goal. We may probably see Onazi in a bench role should Rohr decide to stick to the players who performed well in this game.
My man of the match is undoubtedly Alex Iwobi. He was our best player by a mile and that’s got nothing to do with his brilliant goal. Even in the first half when the Eagles struggled, he was the bright spot in our game but when Rohr changed formation, the young man actually blossomed. This must rank as one of his best games for Nigeria.
John Obi Mikel was influential as usual but really picked up as the game wore on. He showed that we still need him in the team, at least for the World Cup.
Victor Moses did not play to his usual standard and that may be attributed to the stifling 4-3-3 formation that we played in the first half. We saw flashes of his game in the second half before he was pulled off for Ahmed Musa.
Odion Ighalo was also outstanding although he had to wait until the switch in formation before he impressed. He however had the Super Eagles first attempt on target in the first half even though it took almost half an hour before we did it.
This game, in my opinion, has served its purpose. We saw Rohr’s team against a very strong England, former World Cup winners and a contender for the trophy in Russia. We also saw the team play two different formations in a game and clearly saw how they reacted to both formations.
Rohr also has some very difficult choices to make. What is the Eagles preferred formation? Is it 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 or even 4-4-2? He must decide on this. He must also decide on his starting 11. If anything, the performances in this game have shown that his starting 11 is not settled yet. While some players are trying to play themselves into a starting shirt, some obviously are showing why they should start from the bench.
It was a promising performance for the Super Eagles and I implore the fans to expect a good showing at the World Cup. This team is showing, with each passing game, that it has the ability to get better and I hope they can peak in Russia 2018.
We still have the chance of seeing them play against the Czech Republic next Wednesday so hopefully we can see improvements in performances and a better result.
Finally, I paid particular attention to the Super Eagles but I noticed Nigerian fans booing Dele Alli obviously for preferring to play for England. If the game had ended in a rout for the Super Eagles, I’m sure Alli would have been justified over his choice but with the response of the Super Eagles in the second half, he should have a second thought about his preference.