Saturday, August 13, 2016

Mikel Leads Nigeria to the Medal Round.....

Obi Mikel, Team Nigeria's skipper, was instrumental to Nigeria overcoming Denmark to move into the medal round of the 2016 Men Olympic Football. This victory was very important. Denmark has been Nigeria's boogie team at least in the minds of many Nigerians. Not many will forget their 4-1 pounding of the Super Eagles at the 1998 World Cup when reaching the quarter final stage had been assumed to be easy. Then just a few months ago, this Denmark Olympic team whipped Nigeria 6-2 after leading 6-0 until the last few minutes during an international tournament in Korea. Thus, today's game was approached with a good dose of trepidation by Nigerians.

However, in spite of Nigeria's boycott of training because of delayed payment of allowances and in spite of the trepidation, Nigeria came through in a game that Nigeria probably could have won by a larger margin. At the center of that victory was clearly Mikel Obi who was the game's co-Man of the Match as far as one observed. He ran the midfield and his confident play was unmatched by any one else on the field. That he converted Nigeria's first goal was an important confidence builder for Nigeria.

Who was the other co-MVP? I believe Imoh Ezekiel deserved that tag. His running on the flanks and at the Danish defense was critical. He assisted in the first goal after switching to the left flank and running past the defense before making a high quality cross that Mikel only needed to re-direct into goal. If he was just a bit unselfish, he could have assisted a second goal few minutes later instead of going for glory. But there were, to be honest, a few others who were top quality today.

Nigeria played very well and seemed very assured with the ball but some defensive laps were still evident. One in particular was Amuzie's inexplicable failure to win a header that forced Nigeria's goal keeper to make a spectacular save. Late in the second half, a series of poor play disintegrated the defense but Nigeria was fortunate not to concede. These lapses could be problematic in a more difficult game. The top guy on defense was clearly Shehu. That defense earned a B for its play. No goal was conceded.

In the midfield, Nigeria was in control for much of the game with both Azubuike and Usman doing well in ball recovery and Mikel presenting himself to help maintain possession in advanced positions. Usman, however, was fortunate to stay in the game after numerous fouls that could have sent him off. Azubuike was very good covering a lot of space and recovering the ball but a few times he made unforced errors that would raise eyebrows. The grade was a B as well.

Upfront, Sadiq struggled to compete against the defense. It was not easy and he appears a tad slow in decision making and the ball control was not quite there in this game. However, Sadiq is a competitor and stayed active till he was substituted with Ajayi. For me, the attack earned a B-.

The technical crew did well and it showed in the way the defensive shape stood up for much of the game except late. In addition, the midfield play was good. I was concerned that Usman was left in the game at the beginning of the half when he seemed headed for disqualification. A  grade of B it is for the crew.