Stephen Keshi’s team needs to improve
By Tunde Sulaiman
Only 10 days ago most Nigerian football fans were over the moon celebrating a decent 1-1 draw with a star-studded Catalonia XI in the Super Eagles first tune up match ahead of the Nations Cup finals kicking off next week in South Africa.
Perhaps the way the Eagles were able to bounce back from conceding an early goal and overwhelming early possession by the Catalonia XI to score a second half equaliser and hold out for the draw made many view our team in a different light.
Whatever be the case on Wednesday night ‘little’ Cape Verde (a team ranked 63rd in the world to Nigeria’s 57) must have removed whatever prism we had put in front of our eyes for us to see what our Eagles really are – not yet the finished article!
Many apologists will quickly leap to their defence claiming that after all the whole essence of tune up games are to help the players and coaches discover their flaws, but if the Eagles are still looking so disjointed barely nine days to their first game against Burkina Faso what is the guarantee that they will be able to get it right in the few days remaining?
But for wasteful finishing and wrong pass selection (especially around the Eagles’ 18) Wednesday’s match could have even been worse for Nigeria as Cape Verde carved out quite a lot of decent chances.
Cape Verde once again exposed the inability of the Eagles to hold onto the ball, with the Nigerian side relying more on individual play rather than team work to try to get the better of their opponents.
Like I have mentioned before Cape Verde showed while it is important to play African teams when preparing for a tournament taking place on the African continent.
Unlike the Catalonia XI, were all the players on display where observing the winter break (in Spain at the time) Cape Verde players showed that they were up for it matching the supposedly more superior Eagles players grit for grit – and in fact stringing better passes together, clearly showing that as a team they were better prepared for the match.
Television pictures of Coach Stephen Keshi clearly showed that he was unhappy with what he was seeing of his wards on the night.
Even though he may likely tinker with his team before the Nations Cup proper, the bulk of those on display on Wednesday night are likely to be his main XI for the quest for South Africa 2013 glory.
One other disturbing incident which was revealed during the game was the petulance shown by Victor Moses to what he clearly perceived to have been a bad tackle on him by a Cape Verde player.
But for the leniency of the Portuguese referee, who refused to follow the rules to the letter, the Chelsea man should have been shown a red card for clear retaliation.
Had this been a Nations Cup game his action would have put his team mates under undue pressure playing 10 against 11. Again Cape Verde showed why I feel the Eagles should have concentrated on playing African opposition – against the Catalonia XI, the Eagles where allowed time on the ball and tackled more ‘gently’ by their ‘Oyinbo’ opponents.
Our Group B foes, Zambia, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso (who would have watched the game) would have noticed this and may instruct their players to single out Moses for ‘special treatment’ hoping that he will again snap!
However, Keshi knows that his job was never going to be easy and he can take some solace in the fact that Cape Verde exposed his team almost two weeks to his first game so he does have a chance to make amends.
On the strengthen of what we saw on Wednesday I would push for Nigerian football officials, to as a matter of urgency, arrange another tune up match with another African team – preferable a physical side – so that the Eagles can again test themselves under almost more likely tournament conditions.
Its one thing to pull off a draw against ‘holidaying’ Catalonia XI and another thing against battled hardened and match fit Zambia or Burkina Faso.
However, for arguments sake, lets hope and believe that the Super Eagles just had a bad day in the office on Wednesday night and will have better days at ‘work’ in South Africa.