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‘Minnows’ Madagascar expose Super Eagles’ frailties in Alexandria

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Madagascar’s goalkeeper Melvin Adrien celebrates after winning the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group B football match between Madagascar and Nigeria at the Alexandria Stadium on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

Their last encounter at the Alexandria stadium in 2006 ended in 1-0 defeat in the hands of Elephants of Cote d’Ivoire. That was 13 years ago when Egypt hosted the African Cup of Nations.
 
Yesterday at same venue, the Eagles put every foot wrong in their last game against first timers, Madagascar. It ended 2-0, a defeat many Nigerian fans called a big slap to the country.
 
After conceding a first half goal through a defensive blunder, the Eagles, who needed the victory to remain on top of the group, failed to provide any antidote to the stylish play of the Malagasy. 
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The victory took Madagascar to the top with seven points.
 
Some Nigerian fans, who could not hide their feelings yesterday described the defeat as a big disgrace to Nigerian football.
 
Solomon Uchenna, who flew in from Cairo to watch the match said the Eagles played as if there was nothing at stake. “You can’t play football this way against an underdog and expect good result,” he said. “I blame the coach for fielding Mikel Obi in this competition. It is obvious he finished his football in China. He has nothing to offer any more.”

Madagascar’s players (L) and Nigeria’s players huddle during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) Group B football match between Madagascar and Nigeria at the Alexandria Stadium on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

 
Another fan, Christopher Makanjuola who came from Nigeria yesterday said he was disappointed with the result, particularly when it came from a lowly rated team, Madagascar.
 
While the Super Eagles are rated third in African football, Madagascar sit deep in the 73rd position.
 
But the rating did not count yesterday.
 
The Eagles, who won each of their two previous matches by the odd goal, showed a palpable lack of mental power to respond, with Samuel Kalu fluffing a great pass by Ahmed Musa in the 19th minute and Musa himself, left with the goalkeeper to beat as a pass found him in the 18-yard box, bungled with a poor first touch, and his subsequent attempt to dribble the goalkeeper failed.

In the second half, instead of working hard to get on level terms in no time, Nigeria quickly found themselves further behind when substitute Wilfred Ndidi deflected a free kick by Carolus Andrea past a wrong-footed goalkeeper Ikechukwu Ezenwa.
 
A deep soul-searching is imminent in the Nigeria camp after such a flat performance, against a team rated lower than 100th in the world and making its first–ever appearance at the Africa Cup of Nations.

First touches left the Eagles’ midfielders and forwards down, as they made heavy weather of simple passes and controls, and creativity was totally lacking in a team that earned a ticket to Egypt with a match to spare.

Skipper Mikel John Obi, making his 89th appearance for the Eagles, was a shadow of himself, but Alex Iwobi was no magnificent difference when he came on, just as Moses Simon and Wilfred Ndidi brought no spark or innovation on board when they were introduced.

Such a sound beating by a team that had never scored against Nigeria in four pervious meetings was a dampener, and it would be interesting to see how the Eagles overcome this adversity and put up a show in their Round of 16 encounter at the same venue on Saturday.

While Madagascar finished the group stage unbeaten and scored two lovely goals from dead-ball situations, the Super Eagles have not been able to make hay from free kicks in decent memory, calling to question the continued delegation of the responsibility to one man who has refused to perfect his act. Three opportunities presented themselves from 20 yards and were all wasted in nonchalant manner.

Coach Gernot Rohr, who rang five changes to the team that defeated Guinea on Wednesday, must now come up with the formula to lift a dispirited dressing room before Saturday.


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