Tactical thoughts on Nigeria v Kenya

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Written
by Nduka Orjinmo

It
was a tale of two coaches as Nigeria played her first game since emerging as champions
of Africa.
One
coach knew exactly what to do, and the other didn’t react well enough.
With
Emmanuel Emenike absent due to injury and Efe Ambrose unavailable because of
suspension, returnee Obafemi Martins started upfront while Solomon Kwambe made
his second start for the Super Eagles.
Generally,
it was a largely unchanged squad that won the Nations cup just last month.
Dennis
Oliech led the lines for the Kenyans despite joining the team late, Victor Wanyama
took his place in the middle while Nyambura Francis was on the left.
Nigeria
started well, not sharp enough to create chances, but played the ball around
from side to side with no real intent. For the Kenyans, it was all about
keeping their shape and not going behind in the early minutes. The onus was on
the Nigerians to control the game and dictate the tempo, so the Kenyans sat
back, very deep in their own half and in Francis Nyambura on the left of a
4-4-1-1 formation; they had someone who offered a change of pace when they
transitioned quickly.
Onazi
kept getting caught in possession and couldn’t play the simple passes; Sunday
Mba kept drifting in and out of zones and looked largely uninterested while
Victor Moses couldn’t find the space to run into when he had the ball. For
Brown Ideye, he looked unhappy playing on the wings, while Obafemi Martins was
frustrated upfront on his own. Mba was so far away from him that the Kenyans
dominated Martins three to one.
30minutes Kenya
creep into game.
All
this while, the Kenyans where interested in keeping their shape, defending
close to each other and forming two blocks of four as they waited for the
Nigerian onslaught-which never came-slowly, slowly they began to see some of
the ball, their passes began to find each other. Critical to their game plan
was Victor Wanyama, Dennis Oliech and Francis Nyambura. In Wanyama they had a
bully who could shield the ball and bring it out of midfield calmly. He was
never hasty on the ball and played the perfect pass 8/10. He was the regulator
of the team’s play and most of their possession was won by him and the
distribution flowed through him. If it was Sunday Mba’s job to mark him as the
most forward of the Nigerian trident, he made a very poor job of it, and the
sheer disparity in size would have made the job more difficult.
An
interesting battle would have been between Mikel Obi and Wanyama, but because
both played identical roles for their sides and were shielding their
defences-with both unwilling to foray forward in the first half- that
confrontation never came.
Dennis
Oliech was comfortable receiving the ball with his back to goal when it was
played to him, and did a perfect job of holding it for Omolo Johanna who always
joined him when the ball was played into Oliech’s feet. When the ball was
played out left to Francis, he was willing to take on Solomon Kwambe, but was
largely unsuccessful. Generally, the Kenyans were not interested in launching
an all out attack on the Nigerian goal, but were more interested in keeping the
ball in the Nigerian half when they had it and the strength of Oliech meant
they could do that.
Kenyan goal
Though
the merit of the foul that led to the Kenyan goal can be argued elsewhere, it
came off a sublime free kick by Nyambura Francis. The Nigerians were becoming a
little frustrated with sloppy passes and lack of communication, the Harambee
stars had grown into the game and spaces were beginning to show in the Nigerian
defence which eventually led to a free kick conceded by Echiejile that led to
the goal.
First half
summary
The
deep lying Kenyan defence meant that the pace of Obafemi Martins was going to
be of no use, and the key was in stretching the play out on the wings and
playing quick shot incisive passes. Sadly, Nigeria lacked the players on the
day to do that. Brown Ideye is a striker used to leading the line, and though
he may play on the wings, he will not appreciate the importance of staying on
the line and trying to drag the full-back out with him, to create a channel for
Martins. Victor Moses on the left, better suited to playing on the wings, was
always cutting inside onto his stronger right foot and met a noisy zone dominated
by Kenyans. Again, the absence of Efe Ambrose and the forward runs he brings
was totally missed.
Kwambe
was exhibiting jelly feet and was inconsistent with his runs. When he did, he
didn’t know whether to go outside of Brown Ideye or inside of him. Ideye was
seeing less and less of the ball and it was only a matter of time before he
joined the rest of them in the middle-perfectly playing into the hands of the
Kenyans. But in all, the biggest culprit had to be Sunday Mba, whose lack of
competitive football was apparent. He was short in confidence, stayed too far
off Martins and could not muster a decisive pass all through.
Martins
upfront was the greatest loser in all the sloppy play around him. He came
deeper in search of the ball-which thrust him into the Wanyama deep end- but he
was generally brilliant when the ball was played into his feet. Nigeria’s first
real shot on target, came when Martins exchanged a quick one two with Victor
Moses. There was also the indirect kick suffered by the Kenyan goalkeeper-for
bouncing the ball more than thrice-but the move had been another quick one two
between Martins and Moses.
Generally,
Nigeria suffered because of a lack of width, sloppy passes which meant they
could not break quickly and the absence of Emmanuel Emenike and his power
upfront. Maybe an Ejike Uzoenyi and Ahmed Musa on either flank would have
opened things more for them.
Second half
Surprisingly,
Keshi stuck to the same side as both teams appeared for the second half. Only a
fusion of energy or a tactical switch would have led to a different output from
the same set of players. Many had expected Sunday Mba to give way, others
wanted Obafemi Martins.
But
it was clear that the Nigerians were going to have a very long day in breaking
down the Kenyans in search of the equalizer. They were still playing exactly
the same way as they did in the first half. The Kenyans had grown into the
match, and were much more assured in their passes. Coach Amrouche was on the
touchline-overtly agitated-and made sure they did not lose concentration.
Kenya reacts
By
now, the Kenyans must have noticed the nervousness of Solomon Kwambe on the
Nigerian right of the back four, and either by design or instruction, Dennis
Oliech drifted to that side of the pitch and had acres of space behind the
full-back. Francis Nyambura moved backward a little bit and both of them
created an overload in that region. Kenneth Omeruo who had an outstanding game,
was attracted naturally to the Kenyan centre forward and followed him out
right, creating a chasm between himself and Oboabona. Though he did an
excellent job tracking Oliech, a neat exchange between Oliech and Francis
should have led to a second goal for the winger and a second for the Harambee
stars. But he skewed his shot with just Enyeama to beat and Nigeria was granted
a lifeline.
At
this point it was clear what the Kenyan strategy was. Win the ball-give it to Wanyama-pass
to Oliech on the left-run with the ball. And it was working for them. Still
there was no reaction from the Nigerian bench as Stephen Keshi watched on as Wanyama
bossed the midfield and regulated the play. Suffice to say the game was at this
point played the way the Celtic man wanted it, if he wanted it fast he did so,
if he wanted it slow he stepped on the brake.
The
Kenyans were still playing deep and compact at the back, so the natural thing
to do was to introduce a midfielder who would be willing to stand on the flank,
reach for the byline and put a cross in. So in came Ahmed Musa for the dejected
Obafemi Martins and so Brown Ideye moved to the centre while Musa was on the
right. Very little was to be achieved with his pace with the Kenyan deep line,
so the trick was in him getting the ball quickly and releasing a cross for the
target man Ideye. But neither Victor Moses on the left flank or Sunday Mba in
the hole, were willing to provide more heads to target in the box. Musa lasted
for about five minutes on the right flank before he too drifted inwards to join
Ideye. Once this happened, that initiative of using him as a winger to stretch
the play was lost.
The
second alternative was to take off one of the three midfielders and refresh
things a little in that zone. Mikel was the most likely of all three to create
a scoring chance with his variety of passes, but his deeper position meant he
could only try the long ball option which couldn’t work because the Kenyans
were sitting deep. And again, only a Mikel would have been able to battle Wanyama
for the control of the midfield, and then regulate the game.
The
option would have been to take off Sunday Mba, and throw in a forward thinking
midfielder-a Nosa Igiebor for instance-but the choice of Nnamdi Odumadi was
also the reasonable one to make. Since the Kenyans were not attacking through
the middle, there was no need being too cautious since the home side was
chasing the game. At this point, Nigeria had switched to a 4-1-2-3 formation
but was still missing the composure of short incisive passes.
Two
critical things happened that might have resulted in the goal conceded by the
Kenyans. Coach Amrouche substituted Dennis Oliech and thereafter had himself
sent off for what was the millionth protest of the referee’s decision. The
fourth official had had enough of his backlash and he was sent to the stands.
The coach was gone, and so were his consistent calls for concentration. Dennis
Oliech that would have provided some leadership on the field had also been
removed. They kept losing the ball upfront, and with Mikel and Oduamadi now in
the Wanyama zone, the Kenyans were outnumbered and were just playing for the
time. Five minutes was added on.
Keshi
made one last throw of the dice, casting John Ogu into the mix in place of
Victor Moses. Seeing that Moses was the most likely to deliver a perfect cross
and the most likely to create a chance, I found this quite strange. But again,
what other options were available to be made? Maybe Solomon Kwambe at right
back, since the Kenyans were by this time pegged full back and Omeruo was
anyways doing the job of the full back.
In
the end, Nigeria was able to get the equalizer in the third minute of added
time, but the goal was not a result of a tactical play, but of a player in the
right position when fortune beckoned.
Conclusion
It
was always going to be difficult in their first game after the Nations Cup, but
Nigeria was tactically inferior to the much superior Kenyans that came with a
game plan and stuck to it.
More
of the game was determined at the tactical level, and it was surprising that
Keshi failed to react before or during the game, seeing that he was missing Efe
Ambrose and Emmanuel Emenike, two key components of the of the title winning
side. While Efe provides the width on the right, Emenike provides a target man
upfront who can hold onto the ball.
The
introduction of Oduamadi for Sunday Mba thus releasing Mikel forward to
challenge Wanyama, is one that should have happened long before it did.
The
return fixture in Nairobi would be far more interesting, and it would be
fascinating to see how both coaches react. For the Kenyans, two key moments
shaped the game. The withdrawal of Dennis Oliech and the sending off of coach
Amrouche. That both incidents happened close to each other meant that they lost
two leaders, one on the field and one on the touch line.
You
can follow Nduka Orjinmo on twitter via www.twitter.com/orjinmonduka or
simply @orjinmonduka

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