Friday, January 22, 2016

1-1 Tie but a Reminder of March in Abuja....

Nigeria tied Tunisia 1-1 in a CHAN Group game today in far away Rwanda but in many ways the game is a reminder of what to expect when Egypt comes calling for a Nations Cup qualifier in Abuja next March. Of course Egypt is not Tunisia nor is the current Egyptian coach a clone of previous Egyptian coaches. However, North African football appears eerily similar when they play. 

Today, you could almost swear that you were watching the 2010 Nations Cup game when Nigeria lost 1-3 to Egypt. Nigeria did better this time because it refused to take the bait and be suckered into a highline defending that Egypt of 2010 exploited with balls over the top after leisurely playing around with the ball in their defense. Tunisia sought the gaps in Nigeria's defense but failed to find them regularly in the opening half but they found other ways to attack. They exploited gaps left by Akas going forward. Upfront, the abundant spaces in the wide positions that Nigeria exploited against Niger Republic disappeared against Tunisia. Not only did Tunisia defend wide, they often doubled down with atleast two defenders when the ball got to Nigeria's wide forwards. Thus, the dribbling runs by Aggreh were non-existent.

To Nigeria's credit, the play in the middle was good with Ifeanyi and Usman doing very well to find spaces in the middle of Tunisia's defense and also when Tunisia pressed looking for the equalizer, Nigeria countered with speed and if decisions were more clinical it would have led to a certain win. Here is how I rate the individual players and the coaching crew using very brief descriptors. 

Ike Ezenwa (1) 6.2 -- Except for one flap at a high ball he was very assured in goal. It is clear that his position in the "A" team is not a fluke. This is a good goal keeper.

Mathew Etim (14) 6.2 -- Very assured in one and one defending and provided some support to Osas Okoro going forward.

Augustine Oboroakpo (5) 6.3 -- He was very strong in defense both in the air and on the ground. His anticipation needs a bit of work but he earned his spot in today's game.

Stephen Eze (21) 5.8 -- Stephen was poor covering a range of space particularly down his left when Akas was caught off by the Tunisian counter in the first period. He was duly substituted at the start of the second half. Going by Oliseh's antecedent, one expected him to be off before the whistle for interval. However, he was spared that ignominy.

Chima Akas (cpt -3) 6.2 -- I rate him high here, even though he was responsible for leaving gaping holes in the opening period because of being caught off in counters. The rating is based on his one and one defending and his support in attack which was important.

Kalu Orji (2) 6.0 -- He was a major upgrade over Eze as he had the pace to cover the range of space that Eze failed to cover. However, he made a mess of two opportunities clearing the ball out of danger and had difficulties in the air. Beyond those, he was solid.

Paul Onobi (10) 6.0 -- Onobi was very quiet but provided an outlet for playing the ball out of the defense and generally shielded the defense from attack. However, he has an annoying and lazy approach when receiving the ball. Some may call it confidence but it can also be dangerous.

Usman Mohammed (4) 6.5 -- He was very active in the middle until being replaced after what appears to be an injury to the groin area. Usman often interchanged with Ifeanyi as the most advanced midfield player.

Bartholomew Ibenegbu (12) 6.0 -- Nothing spectacular but made a move that freed him on goal in the 82nd minute but failed to convert. 

Mathew Ifeanyi (8) 7.0 -- In my opinion, the best Nigerian player on the field today even though he appeared to fade down the stretch. His ball distribution is vital to the team's possession play but it is important that his incisive passing is also consistently provided in very advanced position. This has yet to be the case.

Osas Okoro (17) 6.3 -- Osas had very little space to operate in the opening half but provided the assist that led to the goal and began to find the space when Tunisia chased the game.

Chisom Chikatara (13) 6.4 -- This kid has the speed of a sprinter and an eye for goal. Importantly, he showed his technique getting around defenders on a few occasions. However, he was trapped off sides several times and his ability to hold up the ball is below average. Importantly, he also appears to have a problem weighing his passes appropriately. However, his goal and overall activity deserves a high rating.

Prince Aggreh (7) 5.8 -- Aggreh was largely anonymous today as the Tunisians limited the type of space provided in the Niger Republic game. He was eventually replaced late in the game.

Ezekeil Bassey (11) X -- Not rated as he played less than 15 minutes in the game.

Oliseh's coaching crew - 6.0 - His advantages in the Niger Republic game were nullified. To the credit of the bench, the Nigerian team was largely disciplined in checking the early tactical bait used by the Tunisians. While the defense was good when assessing individual players, there are concerns with awareness of Tunisian attackers deep in the box.