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Bafana Bafana expose the cracks in Rohr's Super Eagles

NPFL By: Imo-owo Mbede | 12/06/2017

Bafana Bafana expose the cracks in Rohr's Super Eagles

The Super Eagles' loss to the Bafana Bafana in the opening qualifying match for the 2019 African Cup of Nations was the first in a competitive game. This loss was masterminded by Stuart Baxter, the same man who was in charge the first and only other time they beat the Nigerians during the Nelson Mandela Challenge thirteen years ago.

While Baxter may be lauded for his uncanny ability to demystify the Super Eagles, there is ample evidence that the current Super Eagles team led by Gernot Rohr also played a part in its misfortune last Saturday. Despite a hitch-free preparation for the match, certain inherent factors worked against the Super Eagles.

Inexperience

The team is still relatively new and is largely composed of young players, and so does not have that character as yet. The absence of most of the senior players at the game only served to worsened the situation. Captain Mikel Obi, Carl Ikeme, Leon Balogun and Victor Moses, who are undeniably the spine of the team, were all sorely missed in Uyo. There was no Ikeme and Balogun to arrange the backline, no Mikel to dictate the pace and for creativity in midfield, and there was no Moses to inspire the attack. Against South Africa, Nigeria paraded a team of too many young players at the same time without an inspirational figure or leader on the battlefield.

Quality

How many Super Eagles players of the last decade can walk into the starting line-up of the Super Eagles team of the 90s? Very very few. The Super Eagles has been bereft of sufficient world class players for over a decade now. The story is the same in the current crop of Super Eagles which is composed predominantly of players who are either yet to attain their full potentials or are on the verge of a decline.

Poor formation and team tactics

Nigerian football has always played a default 4-4-2 or 4-2-4 formation. Suddenly we switch to a 4-3-3 at this coincides with our worst era in football... Team formations should devised based on suitability to available players and not the reverse. Game tactics should be tailored to specific opposition, and should be varied depending on match situation and outcome.

There's no rule that says the team must play a 4-3-3. The Eagles could perhaps have fared better if they deployed the wings in a 4-2-4 or 4-2-2 formation. On the evidence of the match, the pace of Simon Moses, Ahmed Musa and Henry Onyekuru on the flanks, would have stretched the compact South African defence, especially with the lack of creativity and penetration centrally.

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Coach Rohr must take the larger chunk of the blame for this defeat due to the inflexibility of his gameplan and team tactics. He stuck with the same formation all through the game even when he could have opted for a 3-4-3 after conceding, to offer more support to the attack as well as stifle the South Africans' passing forays from midfield.

Player selection and deployment

In football, it is believed that you should not change a winning team. However, it is necessary sometimes that players be shuffled in certain matches to get the desired results. It is also necessary that players be selected based on their abilities, form and relevance and deployed in areas of core competence, in particular match situations. Again, Coach Rohr fell very short here.

Being some of the more promising members of the team does not mean Iheanacho (who is more effective as a support striker) must start games as a target man when Victor Osimhen (a player better suited for the role) is on the bench. Nothing justifies playing Iwobi wide of an attacking trio when Henry Onyekuru (who plays that role naturally) is left on the bench.

Alex Iwobi who is a better creative player should have taken the central creative role assigned Oghenekaro Etebo, to allow Etebo play his more natural box-to-box midfield role. Onyinye Ndidi should have played the defensive midfield role in place of Onazi who, despite his "experience," is clearly a tad slower.

Well, I guess the coach knows his team better...

Attitude

Some of the Eagles' players are apparently getting complacent after a few good results against not-so-high-profile opposition. It showed in their body language. It is instructive that the coach drums it into his players that talent alone is not enough; attitude is often times more result-oriented. Ahmed Musa, having been benched, played with more zeal when he came on. Victor Osimhen and Olarenwaju Kayode clearly brought more fight and spirit into the attack than Iwobi and Iheanacho.

In a bid to reduce pressure on his young players, the Coach insisted that this game will not determine whether they will qualify for the Nation's Cup as there are other games. This may have proved counter productive as the players obviously did not put up a good fight.

The loss to the Bafana Bafana was a bad result but it will serve as a wake up call to the Eagles. The concern at this point would be that if Coach Rohr couldn't remedy the situation on the pitch, can he draw from the lessons here and do so in the long term?
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