The Nigeria U23 team have been living off miracles: they made it out of the Africa Championships against all odds. The crises that ravaged the team would have crippled any other. Their trip to Atlanta for pre-Olympics training was also a miracle. There was no money and no hope, yet they made it. Then they ‘got stuck’ in Atlanta, and almost didn’t make it to the stadium for their first outing at the games. The victory over Japan in that match shocked the world. It was more miraculous than magical.
Nigeria needed one more miracle for a chance to contest in the Gold medal game against Brazil: the miracle of a Clean Sheet. Germany had scored 19 goals in four games, Nigeria had conceded six. The free-scoring attack facing-off against a dozy-defence. Within 10 minutes of kick-off, the fragility of the Nigerian back-line was exposed, and the chance of that miracle happening, vanished. Max Meyer ran onto a through ball behind the sleepy Nigeria defence, squared to Lukas Klostermann. 1-0 Germany.
The full backs never settled down to a proper job of defending. All through the tournament, the complaint has been about the state of the Nigeria defence, especially the yawning space that appear behind the full backs when the team attacks. The Germans used that space all night and should have scored more, but for Troost-Ekong’s solid play and Emmanuel Daniels alertness.
The midfielders were a cross between hesitant and unsure, their play was tentative and the result was a slew of mistimed tackles, misplaced passes and non-existent off the ball runs.
Then there was Sadiq Umar. The gangling Roma striker had scored a goal each against Japan and Denmark, but his contributions to the team seemed to have effectively ended after those two games. He was not effective against Colombia, and was a hindrance in the ties against Denmark and Germany.
We discussed the need for the U23 lads to play as team if they want the Gold medal. But on a day when they needed to put in the work and practice, they strolled around on the pitch as if nothing was at stake, allowing the Germans play ‘Nintendo’ football.