As the clock ticked towards the 90 minute mark, the looks on the faces of the fans in the stadium were filled with anxiety, bereft of the joy that the Eagles had brought in their opening World Cup qualifying games.
Gernot Rohr’s first competitive defeat, coming in our own backyard. The concealed anger on Godswill Akpabio’s face was reflective how the game had gone itself. Amaju Pinnick was there too, the disappointment clearly etched on his face. The lack of ideas apparent too.
If the friendlies had masked our failings, this game certainly exposed them. From the lack of movement in the attacking third, to the lack of defensive organization as well as the absence of creativity in midfield, the Super Eagles goose was truly cooked.
Every long ball into the box was a dagger driven into the heart of Nigerians; because the ball even rarely got that far. The players lacked any sort of cohesion or understanding.
It begs the question as to whether they played to tactics or if there were any tactics at all. Kelechi Iheanacho looked isolated up front, Alex Iwobi cast a shadow of a Nigerian Professional Football League player lacking confidence, Wilfred Ndidi and Ogenyi Onazi didn’t bring any form of calm to the midfield as they were taken apart bit by bit by a very well organized South African midfield.
It is quite clear that Gernot Rohr seems not to know the task ahead of him. The pool of players being invited has become too large. Not every Tom, Dick and Harry can pull on the green jersey. This might only yet be an early setback, but the road to Cameroon just got more complicated and difficult. There are fifteen more points to win, but on the back of today’s performance, it begs to ask if we could win one of the five fixtures remaining let alone the entire five.
The performance has now cast fresh doubts ahead of the crunch double header against Cameroon on the road to Russia. If we cannot control South Africa, how much more the African champions, who seem to have the momentum?
Many can make an excuse on the absence of Mikel and Moses. Some have even mentioned that Rome wasn’t built in a day and we remain a work in progress. But there is no evidence that this work has made any reasonable progress. Football is evolving, so are the nations playing it.
The Bafana Bafana came with a clear game plan and executed it to perfection. They paid every bit of attention to detail of the way the Eagles played. How we played long balls, our height, our sluggishness and our incoherence out of possession. The manner in which they exchanged passes made me green with envy.
It was not a rare sight, it was what their fans had begun to get used to after wholesale changes were made in the football structure over there.
If that was painful, the fact that we couldn’t handle pressure well was what let me down the most. It was the first time (should we get used to this?) in a competitive match under Rohr that we had gone behind. There was no hint of response from the bench or from the players themselves.
They pressed the panic button and lost every form of organization that once was. A clear indication of where our football is. 2017 as a year may as well go down as the worst in our footballing calendar. And should we fail to book a ticket to Russia, it would add to the failures at youth level, where the under 17s and 20s have been watching their counterparts take the world by storm.
If we must progress and see the evidence of our progress, we must start from mental and psychological exercise on the playing staff. It’s what is in vogue now. An expert psychologist who would read the mood of the players and relay the most mentally strong of the players to the coach. Those who are calm under pressure, those who aren’t, those who can die for the shirt and those who would rather not.
Then we can start to discuss basic football lessons such as passing, ball control, et cetera. Then would we can proceed to the stage of teaching basic tactical lessons about player zones, player movements, the essence of which position amongst others.
I have since noticed that the only reason why Nigerian players get tossed to and fro is because they lack tactical knowledge of the game and can rarely read it. Maybe it’s time for us to go back to the basics.
You ask why?
Because every time we watch this horror show of games this current crop of eagles serve us, we may be tempted to think the glory days are indeed well and truly over.
Do you have a different opinion? Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment.
Author: Rotimi “Papi the Great” Daramola
Rotimi Daramola aka Papi the Great is the owner of ForTheGoal.
A freelance sports writer who focuses on football, Rotimi is also a freelance writer, a copywriter and a football analyst who regularly appears on radio and television to talk football. You can follow him on twitter @papi_thegreat to keep up with his writings, engage him and also find out about how you can secure his writing services.