By China Acheru
Nigeria won against Burundi, 1-0 but it was a bore fest of a game, rather than one that the fans would remember in a long time for anything good, well, except that the Eagles won.
Chances were few and far between and the Super Eagles once again failed to impress. They have actually failed to impress more often in this dispensation, though they have managed to grind out results, anyway.
Nigeria started the game playing a 4-2-3-1 while the Burundians played a 4-4-2 (4-3-3).
Though the Eagles had a better ball possession count, it was more of holding onto the ball without the needed penetration for most of the game.
Most of Nigeria’s possession was in its defensive 3rd because its transition into the attack was slow and there was a lack of movement in attack.
After watching the game, here are five pointers that stand out, some of them should worry fans of the Super Eagles.
Ighalo is not given his due credit
Odion Ighali is number 12 on the all-time list of goalscorers for Nigeria at International level and just eleven goals behind Segun Odegbami who is second on the chart with 23 goals.
Granted he may be a very long way off Rashidi Yekini’s 37 goals but he could be 2nd on that list by the time he ends his international career.
Say what you will about Odion but his goals (7 of them) took Nigeria to the AFCON and on Saturday when we were thinking of counting our 270th minute without a goal, he came to the rescue.
His goal against Burundi was a poacher’s delight. Granted, it was a sort of wayward back heel from Ola Aina that only came to life after the defender miskicked, but the predatory instinct of Ighalo put him there when he should. He controlled well, picked his spot and ensured he struck the ball as perfectly as anyone does.
Ighalo deserves more respect from Nigerians. Maybe by the time the AFCON ends, he will get it… If he keeps scoring.
Eagles are a boring bunch
Anyone who wants to enjoy a good game of football should ensure he is not watching the Super Eagles as they never entertain.
In fact, they drag you through their games while you are in tears wondering when it will come to an end. Watching the Super Eagles is not for entertainment, but patriotism if you are a fan and for the sake of writing a match report, if you are a football writer.
The Eagles had better possession against Burundi, but they held the ball in their defensive 3rd where they could do the Burundians no harm. There was little class, style or finesse in the way they played either.
There was little mobility in the attack of the team and Mikel Obi was very poor linking Paul Onuachu and his hold up play was not as good. Alex Iwobi and Samuel Chukwueze who played wide were also too far apart from Onuachu.
The optimists will say that the Eagles won and that was the most important part of it. In the qualifying matches, it was said that the team needed the three points first and would sort out their play later. At what point will the Eagles sort out their play?
We have a goalkeeping problem
After the last two friendly games against Zimbabwe and Senegal, tongues had begun to wag that Francis Uzoho had lost his place in the team to Daniel Akpeyi.
The goalkeeping musical chairs would continue at the AFCON. Uzoho had been poor in recent times and it was not clear if he had been dropped because he was not playing regularly for his club or because his form had dipped drastically. Yes if you know African football, irregular game time for a club in Europe never stopped you from playing for your country.
With Akpeyi on the books of Kaizer Chiefs, it seemed he was going to make use of his chance to shame critics, send a message to Gernot Rohr and Nigerians, then sequester that number one shirt with the Eagles.
True to it, in the 14th minute, a well-weighted ball from Gael Bigirimana landed perfectly for Cedric Amissi who blasted at goal but it was saved at point-blank range by Akpeyi, but not long after he fumbled an innocuous back pass that went to a Burundi corner.
In the 71st minute, Abdul Razak Fiston caught Akpeyi off the line and tried a long-range effort which he fumbled. Akpeyi definitely kept a clean sheet on the day, but he didn’t cover himself in glory.
We moved from Carl Ikeme to Daniel Akpeyi who was dropped after two “poor” games against South Africa and Argentina, then we had Ikechukwu Ezenwa who did not actually do badly in two games against Cameroon, before handing the shirt to Francis Uzoho was was at the World Cup as number one before his form seemed to have dropped. If the Super Eagles have gone back to Akpeyi and he is still this jittery then there is a big problem. But it is what it is. We have three goalkeepers at the AFCON. Rohr will have to stick with Akpeyi or do another chop an change. The choice is his.
The John Mikel Obi question
John Mikel Obi returned to the team after one full year and certainly set tongues wagging for the wrong reasons.
I will not join the school of thought that says the midfielder is finished and I certainly will not join those who say he has no business in Egypt. I will simply just say he had a very poor game against Burundi, one of the worst he has had for the Super Eagles.
Like I wrote earlier, Obi was poor in linking up Onuachu in the attack. He was slow and offered little going forward… heck, he offered little when the Eagles were without the ball and play generally improved when he was taken off because Iwobi moved to the center in the second half.
The team played well without Mikel Obi in the last one year, a fact he himself spoke about in Asaba before the Eagles departed to Egypt, so should he have returned to the team? With at least two more games for the Eagles, would there be better Mikel performances?
Gernot Rohr holds the answers to these.
Mikel Obi is the captain of the team and sometimes, players make tournament squads more for their dressing room activities rather than on the pitch, but Mikel has a lot to offer on the pitch and in the dressing room. Maybe the next game will be better.
How do you solve a problem like Gernot Rohr?
Since Gernot Rohr took over as Super Eagles manager two things have been clear to those who have followed the team.
Rohr is stubborn about his approach to the team, well or maybe he is difficult to convince otherwise, and second, Rohr’s pattern is as conservative as it gets.
The Eagles had lots of possession but it seemed the players were comfortable in their own half of the field. A case of “Make we hold the ball first instead of am to spoil when we go front.”
When the team attacked in fits and starts, it was the same problem that Odion Ighalo had faced in the last three years that Onwuachu was going through- isolation up front.
When Samuel Chukwueze or Alex Iwobi had the ball, for them it was better to ram their way in rather than engage in any kind of teamwork to unlock the opponent’s defence.
It has been two hundred and seventy minutes of football and the Eagles have been able to score just one goal; not good enough but maybe Rohr has a different ace up his sleeves.
I do not agree with Rohr that the Eagles are not favourites to win the AFCON. In fact, as I believed in 2013, I still do now that the Eagles can win the AFCON, not out of blind patriotism but because I like what I see.
I have not and am still not a fan of Rohr, but he has set up this team to be one very difficult to beat. Rohr’s team will frustrate the opponents, frustrate the fans and maybe even the players on the pitch but they will grind out results, somehow, they will grind out results as we watch, crying in the stands or maybe at home in bars, fighting sleep as the players pass the ball around, looking aimless, but achieving. the desired results
What do you do with a man like Rohr? Just do not expect entertainment when the Eagles play but effectiveness. Have they been effective so far? Well, we were at the World Cup? We are at the AFCON after missing out the last two editions… And we may be crowned champions at the end of the 2019 AFCON.