An improved second half performance was not enough to paper over a sloppy first half as Nigeria’s Super Eagles fell to a 2-1 defeat against England’s Three Lions at Wembley Stadium Saturday.
Both teams started the game with their best sides based on availability; Wilfred Ndidi was the only certain starter for Nigeria to miss out due to fitness concerns.
His trademark tackles and interceptions were sorely missed as both Joel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi failed to plug gaping holes in Nigeria’s midfield.
Onazi was especially culpable as his general sluggish play cost the Eagles dear when yet another misplaced pass led to England’s second goal rifled in by captain Harry Kane in the 39th minute.
Chelsea captain Gary Cahill had earlier scored with a towering header from a corner kick in the seventh minute to set the ball rolling for England as they took control of the match, spraying passes around with confidence, with the Eagles struggling to gain a footing in the game despite captain Mikel Obi being the most experienced player on the pitch.
There were loud cheers for the Nigerian team whenever they showed any intention of having a go at their hosts; the 70,000 at Wembley certainly included a very large Nigerian contingent who directed their ire at Dele Alli.
The England midfielder was jeered at every touch of the ball for choosing to play for England, despite his father being Nigerian.
His teammate in England’s junior ranks, Alex Iwobi, took the opposite route and switched allegiance to play for Nigeria at senior level. Iwobi it was, who popped up early in the second-half to stroke the ball home after Odion Ighalo’s effort rebounded off the post.
Iwobi’s 47th minute goal was the first for Nigeria against England in three internationals. The Eagles had earlier lost 1-0 in 1994 at the Old Wembley before forcing the three Lions to a 0-0 draw at the 2002 World Cup.
Iwobi’s goal was evidence of a much improved second half performance due to tactical reshuffling and personnel change as Eagles coach Gernot Rohr showed his ability to read a game and make adjustments.
The formation change from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2 gave the Eagles a foothold in the game and ensured Iwobi influenced proceedings from a more central position.
The second half was much more of a contest with the Eagles showing desire and effort that was non-existent in the first half. It will give Eagles fans hope that despite defeat, the team has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with more illustrious opponents in the shape of Croatia and Argentina.
The loss was the latest in a series of uninspiring results in pre-World Cup friendlies this year. The loss to England follows a drab 1-1 draw against the Congo DR on Monday, and a 2-0 loss to Serbia a couple of months ago.
The only highlight was the 1-0 win over Poland a few days before the Serbia game when a Victor Moses penalty proved decisive. It was the only shot on target from the Eagles in the game.
However, experience from previous World Cups show that the Super Eagles shouldn’t be judged on the results of friendly games.
The 1998 team contrived to lose 1-0 to Germany and 3-0 to Yugoslavia before a scandalous 5-1ndefeat to the Netherlands a few days to their opening match against Spain which they won 3-2 on the way to topping their group.
Rohr however needs to come up with a system to compensate for the Eagles lack of pace and invention in the middle of the park. Nigeria’s friendly against the Czech Republic on Wednesday is another opportunity to come up with new solutions to help the Eagles soar in Russia.