Super Eagles examining all options


“This is a proper game of football” said BBC pundit and former Tottenham striker Garth Crooks at half-time in Nigeria’s friendly with Italy.

It's just what Nigeria needed to examine their Brazilian credentials.

The Super Eagles were 2-1 up and had Italy on the back foot for a fair portion of Monday night's friendly in London, but a lot of that game shows just what they will have to improve on if they are going to make progress at the World Cup.
It was a weakened Nigeria that drew 2-2 with Italy’s second-string outfit in London on Monday but there were signs of the kind of flair and imagination which is often seen in the surprise package of any World Cup.

Whoever Nigeria pick, the team will have to start quicker than they have of late. The Super Eagles have been very slow to get into their stride and the better teams in Brazil will punish this failure.

A lot of the flair and imagination comes from the wider areas. Victor Moses in particular showed how he is the catalyst for so much that is productive for the Super Eagles. When he plays well, Nigeria play well.

The lack of a really creative presence in midfield has long been an issue. John Obi Mikel’s recent form has helped paper over the cracks but this game showed just why it remains an issue. This was Mikel’s second game in three days and he looked slow, leggy, and was often caught in possession.

He’s the man to dictate the Nigerian tempo and the Italian match showed that against the best that tempo has to be a quick one. When there is no pace and energy the Super Eagles lack the wit to break down the massed ranks of a team before them.

If Nigerian fans had wondered why Keshi wanted a 32 year old Shola Ameobi, then this showed them why. Ameobi turned in his best performance yet in a Nigeria shirt, creating an equaliser for Bright Dike and then flicking home superbly after reacting quickest to Francis Benjamin’s cross from the left to give Nigeria the lead.

The African champions looked more than promising when they had the ball. They dominated for lengthy periods of the first half, making Italy pay whenever they stood off and stretching the Azzurri defence at regular intervals. ohn Obi Mikel and Bright Dike causing trouble to 
When not in possession, the Super Eagles remain as mediocre as they looked during last summer’s Confederations Cup, when they dominated a group fixture against Uruguay but still lost, and managed the somewhat inglorious feat of making Tahiti look dangerous at set plays.

On Monday it was Azubuike Egwuekwe’s continual inability to read Mario Balotelli’s turn and the overzealous ball-watching of the back four which led to Nigeria conceding goals.

The full backs Solomon Kwambe and Benjamin Francis both have a long way to go before pushing Efe Ambrose and Elderson Echejiele. Kwambe  at times was painful to watch, but he does have potential even though he was constantly exposed. Francis delvered a superb cross for Ameobi's goal, but that doesn’t mask the continuous manhandling he suffered from Cerci.

No wonder Stephen Keshi said at the post match conference after the Ethiopia game that Yobo would return, and could possibly make the World Cup squad.
 
"Yobo and I spoke before the game and our ambition also is to make sure that he gets that 100 caps and by God's Grace he will get it," Keshi said.
 
"The thing is, will he accept to come back. That's another thing.
 
"We've been talking, and he says no problem. On our side, he's our captain. He's here, he will have his 100 caps and if he's in good shape, why not during the World Cup," he added.

For all their flair and apparent depth, they still lack the structure, defensive discipline and organisational qualities necessary to really be regarded as a contender for the latter stages of the World Cup. And as good as they look on the ball, they don’t have the desired killer instinct in either the first or second string. When they have the better of a game, they still appear unable to step on the throats of their opponents and drive home the advantage.

There is certainly an enthusiasm and confidence within the squad that will serve Nigeria well in Brazil.

"We will play anyone at the World Cup," Monday's replacement goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama told Goal. "We don't have a problem with who we are drawn with [in the group stages]. To be champions of the world, you have to play the best teams so at some point we would have to play them.

"I believe in positivity, never negativity. And I believe in all probabilities for Nigeria in Brazil."
 
But this confidence and flair will only take Enyeama and his team-mates so far. They do need some luck in the draw. It would be great if they drew one of the weaker seeds like Switzerland and a team like Greece from pot B. An example of a nightmare scenario would be Brazil and France in the draw.

If Keshi is to get the very best out of his men, then their flair needs to be harnessed with the presence of a greater unit off the ball. The Super Eagles have to fix up the holes that have been evident for some time.

Time is not on their side. There is one official friendly date next year on 5th March. Any other games will be down to what teams can arrange between the end of the season and the start of the World Cup.

James Coker
20/11/13

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