The prognosis that Nigeria - the giant of Africa will fail or succeed in its race against 31 countries to win the 2014 FIFA World Cup has now been properly documented in the annals of history, but it does leave a few lessons for the Super Eagle, Nigeria Football Federation and Nigeria has a nation.
Before the World Cup, there have been concerns in every quarter has to the performance quotient of the Super Eagles coupled with series of calls for the inclusion of some players which include Ike Uche and Osaze Odemwingie. Though the latter eventually got invited, questions were raised on the quality of strikers the Super Eagles had paraded.
The super eagles ended their first match against Iran with a goalless draw, millions of Nigerians were left hearts broken, frustrated, disappointed, cursing players and demanding the retirement of Keshi. Following from his superlative performance at the Africa's Nations Cup, Nigerians had a lot of expectations based on his experience in his football career, with his success in taking Togo, Mali and Nigeria to the Africa Cup of Nations, and qualifying for the World Cup.
It was widely believed Iran would be a game changer for Nigeria after having a draw with Italy, Mexico and Scotland before qualifying for the World Cup 2014. Even if the country fails to defeat others, we have players internationally recognized who can compete at the highest level so what could have gone wrong? In all honesty, our players were a shadow of those who lead the Nigeria to victory at the Africa Nations Cup, our Eagles wings failed to flap even before it took off, having Iran digging in deep, frustrating our players in the last ten minutes of the game, our players lacked the skill and competence and seemed to have little idea on how to break down a resolute Persian wall, where is the excitement and skill that won the Olympics less than a decade ago?.
A major flaw in our first match is the act of indiscipline from our players, what is the essence of international recognized players when they play like amateurs in a serious tournament like the World Cup? The players did not stick to the plan and played as individuals rather than a team. Most of the players were left confused, not sure of what the next approach is, one could tell our lack of dexterity in our matches. Seasoned coaches understand that by substitutions the game changes, the Super Eagles are easily predictable, they lack speed, match stamina and clinical finishing.
The zeal and hunger for goals is lacking, we had many chances with our ball dominance but we let it fade away, our international players were bench warmers in respective clubs since this past league season, our players lack the creativity and ability for midfielders to string penetrative passes and it had a huge effect on the game. Our possession of the ball was not borne out of superiority, but for the opponent’s preference to soak pressure in the hope of hitting the Nigerians on the counter.
Our midfielders lacked the inventiveness on how to open the opposition defense, every counter attack played by Mikel went to a slow zone speed limit, no passion, There was little swagger and skill from the plodding African champions, as they lacked the ambition to win in the opening match, running up and down with no intention to score a goal. Even when the games got tough for the Super Eagles, there was no change in the striking department which makes the exclusion of Ike Uche a big mistake given his impressive performance for his Spanish club side.
The match against Bosnia played at Arena Pantanal was better, has it could be considered “an evenly poised game”, It was balanced, fair but still lacked an aggressive attack which enables the opposition to easily decode their intentions off.
Tactical dexterity was lacking in our second match against Bosnians, Keshi needs to devise tactics against opponents that best neutralizes strengths, identifies their weakness and exploits them. A good coach is the difference between victory and defeat and it can only be achieved by understanding the tactics of the game. Keshi should have made use of creative players instead of the less intelligent, clueless players in the match, Victor Moses and Osaze should have been more involved in the match.
Our players were no match for their counterparts in other countries, it was obvious that the teams that prepared very well performed well at the World Cup, Right from the beginning of the tournament, it was clear that Germany, Argentina, Holland and hosts, Brazil would go far in the tournament not because of their football pedigree in World Cup but because their preparation towards their qualifiers and friendly matches clearly demonstrated their serious quest to win the tournament, the two finalists, Germany and Argentina, showed that they had one thing in common. Firstly, both countries had players that have been playing together in the last six years at the national teams. Secondly, most of their players are playing in top clubs in Europe and another factor that worked for both countries is that they have developmental programmes and good football administration. These qualities really helped the countries to go far in the tournament.
Also with the fee payment row and bonuses saga before our second round match against France, which took the intervention of the Nigerian Sports Minister, Tamuno Danagogo, it was a classic case study of what off-field rows can it created unnecessary distraction to winning the World Cup, this was a classic scenario of what off-field rows can achieve in Team Management: it breeds disunity, and that was evident in our performance against France.
Amidst the inefficiencies noticed in the team, it is important to note that this team was only built under two years ago in comparison to every other team that participated in Brazil, lack of accountability and allocation of payment and bonuses to players contributed immensely to the crippling of the Super Eagles
One name which cannot be forgotten so soon in the World Cup is Vincent Enyeama, with his impressive exploit, and incredible saves especially in the last match against France, Enyeama has succeeded to engrave himself in our consciousness and those who were saving their legs for their clubs have also succeeded in making their history short lived.
Players should begin adequate preparation before any tournament kicks off, our football federation needs to engage regular developmental programmes to groom younger talents for the national teams ahead of every World Cup. We need a more effective, young players rather than the same set of faces which has become the routine for African countries.
Also, football administrators in Africa should find a way to be transparent with national players instead of insulting them in the media and pilfering their bonuses during a crucial tournament such as the World Cup.
Granting coach Keshi a new contract for another four years and keeping the group while injecting new blood can only make the team better, Let’s also not forget that Keshi has brought the Nations Cup for Nigeria after 19 years of waiting and he became the first indigenous African coach to qualify a country for the second round of the World Cup. One would say he has done enough to prepare the team for the next African Nations Cup qualifier which kicks off in two months’ time, we can still go back to our drawing board and create an effective tactical approach that will bring the cup home. Surely, together we can win!
Folashade Akintayo is studying Communications at Bowen University, Iwo. She is currently undergoing an internship at Caritas Communications, a foremost PR firm in Nigeria.