In football, it is said to be a good thing when another match follows quickly on the heels of a disappointing outing. The Super Eagles of Nigeria thus have the chance to redeem their image, dented by the inexplicable 4-4 result against the Leone Stars last Friday in Nigeria.
When Friday’s match is analysed without emotional interference, it is easy to glean the defects that showed up in the Eagles’ play, especially in the second half. The starting point of progress is understanding faults and then seeking ways to correct them.
Show some respect
Gernot Rohr insinuated as much in an interview last Saturday that at halftime, his players believed the game was already won.
“I am sure they will react because I know my team – I know what we can do, they showed it in the first half,” Rohr says.
“This is despite the fact that I told everyone that they [Sierra Leone] are a good team, many did not believe me. My players believed at half time it is finished and it is a good lesson to everybody, to the staff, to the players and we have to react and I can promise you we will react,” he said.
The players must concentrate from kick-off until the very end of the match.
After 29 minutes last Friday at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City, the Super Eagles were four goals to the good, top of Group L with nine points – 10 goals scored and three conceded. After 90 minutes, the score read 4-4, and many of the Super Eagles’ players looked aghast at the calamity that had befallen them.
For Gernot Rohr, the questions surface once again on his ability to make the team better than he has, and especially his ability to manage games that are seemingly in his team’s control.
Bring back Friday’s first 30 minutes and extend it to 90 minutes
The Leone Stars had nowhere to hide for the first 30 minutes last Friday. The Eagles were in their faces; they were pursued, harassed and pushed back, and because of the incessant pressure, they conceded four goals in 29 minutes. That must be the game plan for Tuesday’s encounter, which was the same thinking from William Troost-Ekong.
“We don’t underestimate anyone,” the Watford defender told Super Eagles TV. “I think if we can just bring what we did in the first half of the last game and make sure we keep concentrated and see out the game, we have a good chance to do what we need to do.”
Better match fitness
Mr Rohr believes the major flaw in last Friday’s match was his team’s physical collapse in the second half when the Leone Stars stepped up their pursuit of an unlikely equaliser.
“For me already, what is sure is the fact that we have a bad preparation; the players arriving very late – even the day before the match in the evening. We had only one quality training session together. Physically and mentally, they lost energy in the second half. There was also the hot weather issue, for the players coming from Europe.”
This situation might not have improved seeing they travelled to Sierra Leone on Monday and had just one training session on the Siaka Stevens pitch, so the team must be conservative in their approach and very intentional to conserve strength for the last 30 minutes of the match.
Correct and timely substitutions
With five substitutions allowed by CAF for these qualifiers, Rohr has the tools to affect the game in whatever guise, especially knowing that some of his Europe-based players will fag out in the heat and humid conditions.
The substitutions that were made on Friday did not help his team. When Victor Osimhen went off injured, the team could have done better with another holding midfielder to help the central defenders, but instead Rohr sent on Paul Onuachu, who could not affect the game.
Improved positional and tactical phase
Oghenekaro Etebo and Joe Aribo were poor in protecting the back four last Friday, especially after the Leone Stars scored their second goal. A simple tweak to the position of both players will have helped the team quell the pressure, but they dwelt on the ball in very dangerous areas. There is a point when a defensive midfielder just has to hold his position to stem the wave of the opponent’s attacks.
All the players that will start and end Tuesday’s encounter must have a perfect understanding of their position at every phase of the encounter.
After their first and last training session in Freetown on Monday evening, Rohr revealed the plan was always to take four points from Sierra Leone – an objective that is still possible. “The expectations are to make a good match. We discovered the conditions of the stadium, the grass and also the hot weather.
“The travelling was okay, though a bit long, but we can recover until tomorrow [Tuesday] afternoon and then the objective [all the time] is to win the game. We wanted to do the four points in the two matches to be qualified – it is still possible and I believe in my team, I think we can do that though it will be difficult like I told you already as we saw in the second half that they have a good team.