Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Why Swaziland isn't a Piece of Cake....

Swaziland, with a population of just over a million people, is smaller than the population of several Nigerian cities. Swaziland is ranked 130 compared to Nigeria's 59 rank. Of course, the conclusion is that the Swaziland game should be a walk in the park for the Super Eagles even though Nigeria has never met Swaziland in an international. 

However, think again. Just a month ago, Nigeria was unable to overcome the No. 135 ranked Tanzania. More telling was that Tanzania did enough to lament missed opportunities to win the game. Guess what? Swaziland in the last few months has beaten the same Tanzania and stunned Guinea 2-1 in Morocco. Those results represent the strength of this Swazi team, the best the country has ever produced. Of course, all that does not mean that Swaziland is expected to beat Nigeria. However, it does mean that Super Eagles must be aware that this team is capable of an upset, particularly in front of a home crowd at the Somhlolo National Stadium in Lobamba

Nigeria's anticipation of an away win is predicated on how its attackers perform. Unfortunately, Nigeria's coach Sunday Oliseh is still engrossed in building the Nigerian team into his own vision. What is not clear is what that vision is. There have confusing signs of what type of personnel he favors and those confusing signs continue unabated. One may have believed that he needed a strong and powerful man upfront, a guy who can confidently hold up the ball. However, that belief dissipated with the retirement of Emenike. What Oliseh does now is open to interpretation as he has Odion Ighalo in camp as well as Obafemi Martins. They are different types of strikers. Ighalo is all about positioning and taking half chances but also going AWOL for significant minutes of a game. Martins is usually all action and running often at the defense.

The table below compares all forwards who have scored for Nigeria and were invited for the Swaziland game. We also add the stats of the retired Emenike for comparison.  Of course, the pool of data for Ighalo is much smaller because he has played fewer games and Martins is a veteran whose last few games for Nigeria have not been particularly noteworthy. The data show Ighalo is better than all the listed players in minutes per goal scored for Nigeria. The worst is skipper Musa but the reality is that much goal scoring is not expected from Musa because of his wide role.

Nevertheless, it is on the shoulders of Martins and Ighalo that Oliseh relies for a good result in the Lobamba game.

Also unsettled is the advanced midfield position where Oliseh has already tried three players -- Lukman Haruna, Ibrahim Rabiu, and Sylvester Igbonu. Except for Igbonu, the other two have not particularly impressed. Igbonu was impressive in the Cameroon game but his all hustle style may not be disciplined enough to assure consistent productivity, particularly in assisting the strikers with goals.

Fortunately, it appears that Oliseh is much more advanced in settling his personnel at the defensive side of the team. The goal keeper of choice is clearly Carl Ikeme, never mind the misgivings of several Nigerian fans. The middle of the defense has witnessed the dropping of a clearly challenged William Troost-Ekong. What is left is whether Oliseh's choices in defense stand the test of time. Leon Balogun will be absent on account of injury and the question is whether Oboroakpo, who reportedly impressed in the CHAN qualifier against Burkina Faso, will get to start.

The above is, briefly, the state of Nigeria's team that will engage the increasingly confident Swaziland in Lobamba. Nigeria has to respect Swaziland and muster the spirit, confidence, and clinical display produced in an international friendly against Cameroon. That, and perhaps more, will be needed in Lobamba.