Finally it has come and gone. The much anticipated AFCON qualifier between Nigeria and Egypt ended 1-1. Oghenekaro Etebo’s 60th minute goal seemed to have secured all three points till Mohammed Sallah struck in stoppage time. Here are ten things we learnt…
(1)SIASIA SHOULD MIX IT!
Critics of the Sunday Oliseh era opined that the team was boring. They rarely created goal scoring opportunities. At a point, NFF president Amaju Pinnick mooted the idea of hiring an attacking coach to help the team’s progression to the final third. Siasia’s plus is that his teams create chances for fun. They score many goals but also have difficulties keeping things tight at the back. It is more like he entirely neglects the defensive aspect of the game. If he had struck a balance between attacking and securing the one goal lead yesterday, the result could have been different. Even with a vital victory few minutes away, the boys were still pouring forward as if they were trailing. Caution would have been the watchword at that point.
(2) IWOBI MUSTN’T HAVE PLAYED
I understand the need to have Alex Iwobi feature in a competitive game for Nigeria and ward off England’s advances but that shouldn’t have been at the expense of the three points. This was a grade A competitive fixture and not some friendly. Some coaches would prefer to start the game with Iwobi and substitute him according to the progression of the game. If you plan to introduce him from the bench, the flow of the game might create no need for him. That was the case yesterday. Iwobi’s competitive debut would have been delayed till the Alexandria reverse fixture where he would have been handed a starting shirt.
(3) SHOULD HAVE BEEN AZUBUIKE NOT IWOBI
At the point Iwobi was introduced, the ideal player to have come off the bench was Azubuike Okechukwu. Siasia needed more bodies in the middle of the pack and Zuby would have kept things tighter alongside Mikel Obi and Etebo. There were many offensive players in that team to guarantee safety.
(4) YES, THESE EAGLES CAN SCORE GOALS IN ALEXANDRIA
One thing that abounds in this team are goal threats. The mobility is heartwarming, a vintage Siasia team. In a game the team must win, you can be sure they will score. The team has the potentials to score as many as are needed but I can’t guarantee their protecting the lead. A team that parades Odion Ighalo, Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, Moses Simon, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho can score goals anywhere on the continent. And when they are under Siasia’s tutelage, he knows how to squeeze out goals from rocks.
(5) FOR ALEXANDRIA, ECHIEJILE SHOULD STEP IN
Make no mistakes, I have high regards for Stanley Amuzie. I have been following his career for some time and I think he is a long term option at left back but this game may have come so soon after his long term injury. He had a torrid time against Egypt’s Sallah and was the biggest culprit for the Egyptian goal. The more experienced Elderson Echiejile should step in in Alexandria. It will be a more grueling duel.
(6) AMBROSE’S BALL-HANDLING DEFFICIENCIES
How many times was Efe Ambrose caught in possession unnecessarily? He has the penchant to initiate attack from defense. Laudable as that is, one should be well equipped to do so. He lacks the finesse and his pass accuracy is low consequently he puts more pressure on the defense. He should be advised to keep it simple and not go beyond his abilities. Some of those let-off that the Egyptians did not capitalize on will not go unpunished in Alexandria.
(7)CONFIRMED! WE HAVE PROBLEMS AT RIGHT BACK!!
Gradually, the right back has become a problematic position in the national team. From Efe Ambrose to Solomon Kwambe, Leon Balogun and now Shehu Abdulahi we have been unable to get a modern day full back that can initiate attack with ease. Given Siasia’s offensive disposition, he will make do with some flying wing backs. I will recommend former U-20 captain Musa Mohammed and Wikki Tourists’ captain Mustapha Ibrahim. This embarrassment has to end. Is this not the same country that once paraded the likes of Yisa Shofoluwe and Mobi Oparaku at right back?
(8) SIASIA SHOULD GO TO ALEXANDRIA HEARING ECHOES OF GUINEA.
The battle of Alexandria will be won from the bench, not merely by talent. Siasia has an embarrassing array of talented young players but how he deploys them will be key. While he can be rest assured that the goals will surely come, there is also need for caution. I will suggest a midfield trio of Mikel, Etebo and Okechukwu to shield a suspect back four. The goals will come but it will be difficult chasing the game. By all means possible, the momentum should always be on Nigeria’s side. He should take a cue from the Guinea game that cost Nigeria AFCON ticket in 2011 with him at the helms.
(9) ETEBO DIDN’T FAIL SIASIA
Siasia fielded Etebo because of his goal scoring prowess from the midfield. The boy didn’t fail. Always having that eye for goals, he had no business being at that spot where he pounced on the rebound to score. That is a centre forward’s position. If Okechukwu starts in Alexandria, Etebo should play a more advanced role. While being so useful in the attacking third, he helps keep the team’s shape in the middle of the pack.
(10) IGHALO’S STRUGGLES IN THE NATIONAL TEAM
Odion Ighalo is yet to hit that rich vein of form in the national team. We know he is also struggling for goals at club level but even when he was scoring for fun at Watford, he never replicated that in the Super Eagles. Somehow, the coaches have not found the right combo that will get him firing in the green and white colours. A huge task for Siasia.