In 1996, the Nigeria U23 soccer team had won two matches, and had qualified for the Quarter Finals before facing a Brazilian team needing a win to qualify out of the Group. Brazil won that game by a lone goal, and both teams qualified. Fast forward to 2016. Nigeria has two wins, Colombia needs a win to go through. Colombia win it 2-0, and both qualify…but that’s where the analysis must stop. This 2016 needs more work before the knock out stages!
The coach needs to sort out the defence. The 1996 team conceded only one goal during the Group stages. That was the goal they let in against Brazil. The 2016 version have conceded six, and four of those were before they qualified. The goalkeeper is exposed when the team is under attack, because the team plays wing backs. But the weakness is that they are slow tracking back, and Colombia used the spaces behind them well. Troost-Ekong was caught for pace a couple of times, and this might be a problem later on. Siasia must find a way to optimise the use of the lateral defenders without compromising the defence.
Mikel should take creative role, and Siasia must work with him on how to deliver it. This team has no creator in the middle. The play flows from the wings. But Mikel has the skills to create. We saw flashes of it in this game, but he seems ‘lost’ between Holding and Creating. The frustration of this confusion saw the coach yelling “pass the ball” at him, late in the game. Give Mikel a free role. The team will thrive.
Still on Mikel, please make him stop taking the dead balls. Keep the skipper away from Free kicks and Corner kicks. He delivers the ball the same flat way that defenders can see and read a mile off. The delivery also leaves the striker with loads of work to do. We need to practise dead balls. Those are goals-in-waiting!
This 2016 team is not the same as the 1996 version. The earlier side had gems all over the pitch: Uche Okechukwu and Taribo West in defence, JayJay Okocha and Garba Lawal in midfield with Nwankwo Kanu and Daniel Amokachi in attack. In that epic semi-final game against Brazil, they had Sunday Oliseh, Victor Ikpeba and Jonathan Akpoborie on the bench. The 2016 version is not that deep. That’s why they MUST play as a TEAM.