How much could Rohr have learnt form the Poland, Serbia friendlies?
Of course, Pyrrhic victories are an outlier. But there’s that feel victory gives, whether lucky breaks, smash-and-grabs or decisive victories: it very easily papers over cracks, gets everyone giddy with excitement and engenders optimism. The Super Eagles victory at Wroclaw toed that line. It was more dwelling on the positives than digging into the gory details of an uncoordinated attack and poor transitioning. Perhaps we were all too focused on sorting out the goalkeeping position, crowning Francis Uzoho the guardian of the Nigeria goalpost or soundly thrashing him as a gigantic fraud unworthy to strap Ikechukwu Ezenwa’s gloves.
Conversely, losing hurts. Almost numbing the mind, it very easily could begin the spiral into that dark hollow cave of disbelief.
The point is that in victories or losses it takes a keen and deliberate act to fish out lessons, look into the glossed over cracks, glean data and feedback from that dark hole.
Thankfully, pre-World Cup friendlies are designed exactly to show the team’s strengths and weaknesses, either in victories or losses.
For the Super Eagles, the international break afforded Gernot Rohr the opportunity to further assess his squad while trying out a few players who could grab the last seat on the plane to Russia.
The friendlies further belaboured the point that the Super Eagles are painful to watch without the captain Mikel Obi.
From the look of things, Mikel does stand as the team’s most important player trumping even Victor Moses, he stands as the glue that holds it all together without him it’s all disjointedness and pitiful chaos as the disparate parts of the team failingly tries to rev itself into gear.
Against the Eagles of Serbia, it was chaotic, with the defence line and the goalkeeper hitting poor balls into the attack incessantly. Ahmed Musa didn’t stand a chance against Branislav Ivanovic and Matija Nastasic in the air while the Serbian midfield of Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic were first to the second balls. It could have been less damning on the Super Eagles had Serbia gone the same route of ball-hoofing but Mladen Krstajic’s side built play smartly from the back and dominated proceedings.
Rohr altered things, at first getting Francis Uzoho to direct (if he could) his kicking to the wings before bringing on Odion Ighalo.
Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi and Joel Obi filled the middle third, while they battled hard in the middle third, they were severely lacking as conduits connecting the defensive third with the attack. Ndidi excited for a bit, looking as one shot in the arm with a dose of confidence on the ball. But its effect kicked in late in the game and lasted only briefly. Joel Obi remains a curious case, hardly the magic wand that gets the midfield ticking as expected. The Torino midfielder is shaping to be an unspectacular addition to the team.
Of course, injuries and unavailability must have impacted Rohr’s plans. Leon Balogun’s unavailability for the Serbia match meant the first choice center-defensive pairing could not play against a striker of a different profile to Robert Lewandowski. Balogun and William-Troost Ekong more than held their own against the Bayern Munich forward, tracking his runs and sticking tight when needed. Aleksandar Mitrovic got a brace playing against the pairing of William Troost-Ekong and Chidozie Awaziem. The duo looked better than the game against South Africa but could be held culpable for both of Mitrovic’s goals.
Troost-Ekong knocked the ball into Mitrovic’s path trying to cut out a deflected pass with a lunge, Awaziem dropped on his bottom with an unsuccessful tackle attempt while Tyronne Ebuehi couldn’t properly shuffle his feet as he weighed in a half-hearted tackle. Mitrovic rolled the ball out to Filip Kostic on the left, the winger cut the ball back to the untracked striker to volley home from close range.
For Mitrovic’s second, Troost-Ekong got sucked onto Dusan Tadic receiving a throw outside the box, the Southampton midfielder got the ball to Kostic, who gave a cutback. Another cut-back, another Mitrovic goal.
There really wasn’t much Uzoho could do about the goals but the Deportivo Fabril goalkeeper still is in need of extensive work. His kicking needs work, so does his reading and judgment of aerial balls.
Top on the coach’s mind should be working out Nigeria’s path to goal because sweeping the ball into Moses’ feet and crossing the fingers hoping on the latest sequel of the ‘Moses Miracle’ simply won’t suffice.
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