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Posted by Kingsley Okiwelu on 06/13/2010

I’ve been feeling rather nonplussed since yesterday. Reason, I’ve had to do a lot of agonizing as to how to calibrate Nigeria’s performance against Argentina.

Should I give Lagerback kudo’s for setting out his troops in a much more organized fashion and improving on the work ethic of the players (which had been a perennial source of concern with past Eagles teams), or address his tactical errors which contributed in ensuring that this was a game where we failed to snatch Victory from the jaws of defeat? Right now, I’m still at a loss, but let’s see how it goes.

I should start by saying there were some positives to be taken out of this game, the team worked hard and functioned as a unit. The players played for each other and there was less of the kind of egoistic individualism that has so cost us in the past. Vincent Enyeama was quite simply incredible in goal, almost single handedly ensuring that the score line remained respectable, and deservedly, came away with the man of the match award, instructive of proceedings considering he was on the losing side.

However, painful as it is for me to admit this, this was a game that was there for the taking and Lagerback has to come away with some responsibility for the fact that we failed to come away with at least a point. A bit harsh, I can hear you say? I don’t think so. There were a few tactical errors that clearly contributed to us losing this game. I’m not referring to the individual error that led to the goal. We’ve always been hopeless at defending set pieces and this soft underbelly was again exposed yesterday in the Heinze’s goal, but this wasn’t the major reason for our defeat.

The primary cause for our defeat has to lie in the way the team was set out. Yes, Angel Di Maria was a threat down the left side, but I’m very sure Lagerback had to realize that the major threat was always going to come from giving Lionel Messi too much room to operate down the middle. Given that Messi operates from a deeper position with the Argentine team than he does at Barcelona, it was always going to be easier to nullify or at least reduce the threat he posed by cutting of the supply of the ball from Veron and Masherano. This the Eagles simply failed to do and the reasoning behind Lagerbacks deploying Sani Kaita in the wide position at the right of midfield instead of more centrally where he could have been more effective in providing a wall between our Defence and Midfield has left me scratching my head. In the circumstance, Kaita was wasted on the right as Argentina simply placed less emphasis on attacking from the flanks since they were getting so much joy in finding spaces between our Midfield and Defence. Only a combination of superb goalkeeping from Enyeama and uncharacteristic profligacy from Messi, Higuain and Tevez prevented the scoreline from being a much more embarrassing one.

Lagerback’s tactical rigidity has ensured that he has failed to strike the right balance between allowing players function in roles in which they are much more comfortable and negating the tactics of the opposition. I can’t help but think how much more effective a 4-2-3-1 system, could have been using the same personnel, but shifting Kaita into a more central role while allowing Nsofor to operate from the wider position to which he is more accustomed with the National side.

As it was, we were unable to take advantage of the glaring shortcomings of the Argentines. Like I predicted before the game, Jonas Guiterrez operating as a right back was always going to provide ample room to exploit. Lagerback seemed to have realized this as he decided to use Chinedu Obasi to harass the Argentines down that flank. He did a good job of constantly marauding down the left flank, especially in the first half but was wasteful in taking his chances.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. I have to say I was encouraged by some of the performances put in by the Eagles. The defence generally held firm, Yakubu Aiyegbeni put in a workmanlike if not completely inspiring display. Martins was explosive upon coming in as a substitute and the greater attacking thrust shown by the Eagles following Lagerback’s substitutions portends favourably for the Eagles subsequent matches.

However, I can’t escape the gnawing feeling that we showed the Argentines too much respect in this game. We didn’t ask enough questions of a Maradona side who showed that the whole is still less than the sum of the parts and we weren’t compact enough and sufficiently difficult to break down for the rampaging Argentines midfield.

My verdict ? Still enormous room for improvement, and there’s no more margin for error. The South Korean team I saw play Greece will provide very stiff opposition and will require all the Eagles reserves of Resilience, invention and aggression to break down. Most crucially perhaps, Lagerback has to call it spot on in that game. Anything other than that will spell a premature end to the Super Eagles dream of advancing to the knockout stages of this, the first World Cup to be staged on African soil.

Comments

Posted by thayer oshin on 06/13/2010

It was a valiant effort.
We looked way better than we did in friendlies couple weeks ago which is a sign of improvement, and that is what matters in the end.
Enyeama was a monster and if he performs like that, there is no doubt in my mind that we can take on Greece and South Korea and move on to the next round.
Greece looked helplessly awful against South Korea, but we must still respect them and prepare well.
The key will undoubtedly be the first goal.
South Korea showed the blueprint on how to beat Greece.
Score First, Score Early.
Then we can take them out of their comfort zone and dictate the pace of the game, which is to our advantage since Greece's strategy revolves around them scoring first.
Greece had some key players on the bench against South Korea (Moras and Kyrgiakos) who I think will start in our game.
Unfortunately, I don't think Greece will give us easy times like they gave to South Korea, but hopefully, Argentina can batter South Korea more than they did to us.

Posted by iniobong udofia on 06/13/2010

Brilliant article Kingsley, and you are spot on as per Lagerback's tactics, Kaita would have been much more useful in the middle and why was Osaze on the bench that long? Any news on Taiwo's injury?
We certainly need to do a lot of work with our runs off the ball. It really busted our attacks.
In all a very surprising performance from the lads
but they'll need a lot more mobility to ward off the Koreans.

Posted by wale on 06/13/2010

Well said......

Posted by kingsley okiwelu on 06/13/2010

@Thayer, think ur right on the money there. But for that to happen Lagerback has to be a lot more adventorous against the Greeks. @ Iniobong, nice to hear from you. Latest news on the Taiye Taiwo is that he'll be fit to take the field against the Greeks.
Thank you all for your comments. keep them coming.

Posted by Larry on 06/13/2010

Very well said Kingsley, more bodies in the midfield and quick pressing of veron and Mascherano would have made the game more difficult for the Argentines. Kaita had a much better game when he filled into left-back.

We also showed weaknesses when we had ball, players like Kaita and Odiah gave way too many careless passes and Lukman often dwelled too long on the ball.

Against Greece, I'd like to see Odemwingie replace Nsofor, as he was uneffective against Argentina plus he lost his marker for the goal.

I believe we'll go through to the round, but I hope the coach realises we cant play a 4-4-2, especially against better sides.

Posted by Ugochukwu on 06/13/2010

Why hasn't the media highlighted the fact that Walter Samuel obstructed Obasi from challenging Heinze during the corner kick that led to the goal. Such gamesmanship should be condemned instead harping on the fact that Enyeama was brilliant as if the guy is a secret. The important thing is that we matched the Argies in terms of skill, but have no prolific striker like Yekini.The most important thing in football is being to beat your man and the likes of Martins,Kalu Uche, Haruna, Ordia,Obasi, Osazee etc are all capable of doing that. Korea are high on enthusiasm, but low on skill and creativity.That is not to say they would be easy.Let 's see them against Argentina first.

Posted by mercy on 06/13/2010

Nigeria could have gotten a draw from this game in the very least. for me in the 1st half they played like they were in awe of the Argentinians and it felt like no-one had the confidence to take shots on goal. as for yakubu, you gave him too much credit. with his wealth of experience, he could have done so much better, at some points he was waddling around like a tub of lard, operating from the flanks and sending the ball to the invisible striker he left at the post. i didnt see any stand out performance but for the goal keeper, he shone so brightly and its more evident with the woeful display of England and Algeria's goal keepers so far.
i actually didnt expect much from this team but i was pleased that the scoreline was respectable and i feel they exposed the weakness of the Argentinians.
as a typical Nigerian, i am hopeful and i feel we can win our remaining two matches and qualify from this group.

Posted by kingsley okiwelu on 06/14/2010

@Mercy, I can understand your sentiments. Yakubu isn't my favourite striker either, but at least he showed some improvements from past performances in a Super Eagles shirt. By this, I mean he was more willing to run the Channels and generally make a nuisance of himself upfront. He kept the Argentines honest at the back even if he as usual didn't show any creativity.
@Ugochukwu, I think you're right in identifying S. Korea as our most potent threat. Here's keeping our fingers crossed they don't take advantage of some of the loopholes Nigeria was able to expose against the Argentines but which were were unable to capitalise on.
@Larry, you would hope Lagerback's got it by now. I simply don't see us having the personnel to play a 4-4-2. If Ike Uche was in the squad, perhaps, but there's no one who can play in the slightly withdrawn position behind the lead striker.
Hope he calls it right in the next game.

Posted by Joshua Hook on 06/14/2010

I am a fan of football in general, and I think the best thing that could happen at the 2010 World Cup would be the banning of the Vuvuzelas trumpets. They are drowning out the tournament. Please pass this on to FIFA

Posted by Nedu on 06/14/2010

If i were the coach, kalu uche will be starting every match. The guy is too good to be benched by kaita or nsofor. Yak played well but its evident he needs another striker so that when he goes off to the left, there's still somebody left to cross the ball to. And those saying we played 4-4-2 against argentina should rewatch the match! Twas obasi on the left, yak centre and nsofor on the right. Kaita was just occupyin the right central midfield post.

Posted by Godwin on 06/14/2010

I think our performance was respectable.The only problem was that,playing a better team,you have to make use of your chances.If we could have converted any of our chances,the whole thing would have been different.
The truth be told though,kingsley you're spot on when you say that we are a bit more organised than before.
Go Eagles.

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