The Super Eagles were easily the best team in the group stage of the AFCON, but suffered a disappointing exit from the hands of Tunisia in the round of 16.
That pain is still sharp. It’s been two months since that exit but the eldorado the Super Eagles exposed fans to made that loss gutting. It was a sharp decline. A bad fall off the cliff and it was expected to provide as many lessons as possible.
Against Ghana at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, it didn’t look like Super Eagles coach, Austin Eguavoen learnt from that disappointment.
Nigeria devised exactly the same system as they did at the AFCON with just individual changes being the difference. Two of those changes were forced as a result of COVID-19 and injury to Maduka Okoye and Wilfred Ndidi respectively.
Francis Uzoho was confident and composed in goal, and helped calm the team’s nerves when he was called upon. He also made a vital save in the game. Innocent Bonke also had a decent game, although struggled to assert himself on a difficult night.
Victor Osimhen also came in for Taiwo Awoniyi who was preferred upfront at the AFCON in the Napoli striker’s forced absence. He was isolated for large periods and had to deal with the Ghanaian central defensive pairing all alone.
Nigeria played with the same system seen at the AFCON. While it’s expressive, effervescent and beautiful to see when it’s in full throttle, it’s a system that’s easy to shut out.
Ghana piled the pressure early in the game and asked questions of the Nigerian midfield. Muhammed Kudus in Ghana’s #10 position was very intelligent with his movement and caused Bonke and Aribo a load of problems. The Super Eagles withheld the flurry of attacks and kept their cool. In another shutout, similar to what the Super Eagles faced against Tunisia, the duo of Samuel Chukwueze and Moses Simon hardly took a foot rightly.
It was a pressure-intensive occasion with more than 70,000 Ghanaians ramped in the 40,000-seater Baba Yara Stadium. Both wingers and Kelechi Iheanacho struggled to assert their influence on the game and left Osimhen to battle Ghanaian defenders for long duration.
That showing was a reincarnation of what happened against Tunisia. Without that odd goal by the Tunisians on the night, it was a game headed for a goalless draw also. Eguavoen’s tactical tweak again was to inject more urgency in the middle and the flanks with Oghenekaro Etebo and Frank Onyeka introduced to bring calmness to the middle.
The attack also saw Emmanuel Dennis and Ademola Lookman, with some better football also seen after their introduction. It was similar to what Peter Olayinka and Sadiq Umar brought against Tunisia.
This system by Eguavoen can be cut out by better teams and may not be effective without good deployment.
Nigeria’s best chance of the evening came from a central position and this implied the importance of offering real threats in creative areas of the pitch.
With the second leg expected in Abuja on Tuesday, drastic changes should be in line.
Eguavoen will be expected to have learned more from how the Nigerian attack struggled again with that setup.
Against a watertight defence and with an extra eye on the attackers and a perception of the dangers they can cause, Nigeria should be looking at other ways to make a difference.
It’s high time the lessons are put to work.
The onus is on Eguavoen’s tactical nous. These are tough and drastic times! They need drastic measures.