The Super Eagles of Nigeria started their campaign in the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Russia with a 0-2 defeat against the Vatreni of Croatia, which has dampened the expectations of fans who had expected the team to soar.
In a match that the national team was expected to take by the scruff of the neck, the Mikel Obi-captained team somehow contrived to put up a limp display that was unbecoming of their illustrious reputation.
The Croats, who were more of an average team, were made to look better than they were because of the lacklustre display that the out of sorts Super Eagles came up with and got punished for their lapses.
Sensing the conservative and uncoordinated approach of the Super Eagles to the game, the Eastern European team began to grow in confidence as they began to exploit the spaces provided by our midfield trio of Mikel Obi, Wilfred Ndidi and Ogenyi Onazi.
As for the defence line of Abdullahi Shehu, Brian Idowu, Troost Ekong and Leon Balogun, their performance lacked inspiration and their underwhelming display was thoroughly exploited as they battled in vain to keep their more enterprising opponents at bay.
The attack was so blunt because of the absence of a creative play from the midfield, which Mikel was supposed to provide… a development which denied Nigeria making meaningful goal scoring attempts.
The albatross of not knowing how to defend set-pieces and corner kicks came to haunt the Super Eagles, as the Vatreni exploited these glaring weaknesses to a devastating effect through the own goal by Etebo.
Also, Ekong’s wrestling antics against Mario Manduzic resulted in a penalty kick against Nigeria.
In terms of match statics, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Vatreni dominated the match 53 per cent to Super Eagles’ 47 per cent ball possession, the Eastern European completed 454 passes; Nigeria could only complete 400 passes.
The Super Eagles committed 16 fouls as against 20 committed by the Vatreni, the Croats got two yellow cards, while Nigeria bagged one courtesy of Ekong’s “wrestling antics’’.
By virtue of their victory, Croatia now tops Group D with three points and two goals in the kitty, followed by Argentina and Iceland with one point each courtesy of the 1-1 draw that the two teams had played earlier in the day, while Nigeria has zero points.
The Croatians took 12 shots at goal, while Nigeria took 15 shots with nothing to show for our “efforts’’….
Historically speaking, the Vatreni have not won an opening match at the World Cup since after their debut 20 years ago at the France ’98 edition in which they came third.
Now that the team’s glaring Achilles heel has been bared for our opponents to exploit in subsequent matches, it behooves on Coach Gernot Rohr and his technical crew to work on the deficient areas of the team ahead of our next match against Iceland on June 25.
The midfield area of the team has to be rejigged with Mikel reverting to the holding midfield role he used to play at Chelsea, while the creative role should be conceded to Iwobi to enable the Arsenal FC attacking midfielder to bring his technical proficiency to bear on the team.
Kelechi Iheanacho should spearhead the attack in the next match, supported by Ahmed Musa and Moses.
Our defenders must up their game against Iceland who will certainly fancy their chances against Nigeria.
Rohr must be decisive in substituting underperforming players when necessary and not be unduly sentimental in team selection and tactics; all hands must be on deck to salvage our battered reputation at the foremost football tournament in the planet.
If truth be told, the Super Eagles were appalling, but they still have the opportunity to win back their fans through creditable displays against Iceland and Argentina.