By: Obiweluozo Martins
As the Dream Team overcame their Malian counterparts on Sunday evening with a narrow 3-2 margin courtesy of a brace from Tunisia based forward Junior Ajayi and an Usman Mohammed wonder strike, the U-23 Eagles were clearly not at their best on the night.
The Malians fought back with two second half goals from Niane in the 55th minute and Souleymane Sissoko ten minutes later in the second period as the game wore on with pressure building on the Nigerian side. This calls for concern for the Samson Siasia led side.
However, the U-23 Eagles must rise to the challenge to avert any unforeseen dangers as the African U-23 championship continues in Senegal.
On this note SoccerNet Nigeria takes a closer look at what we learnt from the Mali fixture at the U-23 Championship.
JUNIOR AJAYI’S PREDACTORY INSTINCT
Junior Ajayi settled the match with a first half brace.
The job of any striker is to score goal and Tunisia based forward Ajayi just did that with great aplomb. The striker was there at the right time to notch a brace in the 16th and 46th minute before the intermission.
The striker was on hand to pounce on the rebound to complete his brace in a special fashion. Ajayi’s stock has risen over the months as his goals propelled the Dream Team into qualification for this U-23 championship.
He was again at alert to finish with a back heel for his first, a typical reminder of Uche Nwofor heroics in the National team. He has underlined his goal scoring and predatory instinct with such sort of performance.
His positioning in the box was spot on as he finished from close range to give Nigeria all three point with his second goal of the game, which was how crucial it was as it proved to be the difference in the encounter as Mali pulled two goal back.
LACK OF COORDINATION AT THE BACK LINE.
Ndifreke Effiong was the major culprit.
The Nigeria team on Sunday evening had a torrid time at the back and faced a steep competition from the Malians attacking foray.
The defence was caught out of position on occasions as the back line lacked composure and calmness to deal with consistent pressure from the opponent. The Nigerian defence was in total disarray especially in the second period as one on one marking was not efficient.
The team coordination at the back was lacking as the defenders could not link up passes to the midfield instead resorted to ballooning and given the ball away cheaply to the Malians.
The defender had to pay the price as they conceded a penalty and in turn the second goal due to lack of positioning. One of the defender gave away a pass which resulted to Mali second which was a Christmas gift on the wrong month as the Eagles conceded yet again to set up a scary end to the match.
LACK OF AN EXISTENT MIDFIELD
Azubuike Okechukwu must do better as Captain of the team in midfield.
The bone of contention was at the middle of the pack and Nigeria’s midfield did not come to the party. The Dream Team had to rely on counter attack to chip in three goals as they were dominated by the Malians with a possession ratio of 57% to 43%.
This is not good enough for Nigeria if we want to be in Rio, Brazil next year for the Olympic Games as tougher games from North African rivals Egypt and Algeria looms.
The Eagles found it had to come by to keep the ball. Whenever in possession the Dream Team showed lack of composure as Mali seized initiative from the middle.
There is a total need for the Dream Team to keep the ball better which will aid their transition play in the final third, even the commentator lamented about their inability to link up well in the midfield in the 78th minutes as a wayward pass from midfield ended up into throw-in to no avail.
SIASIA HAVE A LOT TO DO
The manager have his work cut out.
The gaffer have done a lot with the team but still need to tinker situations to remedy any negative outcome in the future game. Looking at the U-23 team running around in the game left viewers fuming as Nigerians dreaded a massive comeback at every Mali attempt on goal.
The Eagles escaped with a win but how long do you really on such a performance to win, that leaves you in a dicey situation as such was Nigeria case in the game. The coach must avert changes to suit tactical approach and team dynamics with proper psychological talks before filing out for the next game against Egypt.
THE TEAM MUST IMPROVE
Must improve to avoid last minute calculation.
The Dream Team must improve otherwise Nigeria will walk a tight rope in this championship. The players must stand up and be counted if they are to keep their places bearing in mind the return of Europe-based star like Simon Moses, Kelechi Iheanacho and Arsenal starlet Alex Iwobi, to name a few.
The players must accept their weakness and be willing to show their stuff in order march on to the next stage of the competition as fans are keeping tab on their darling Dream Team with hope for the future.