Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Race for Gold Ends for U23 but.....

Today, Nigeria was eliminated by Germany from contending for the gold medal in men's Olympic football. However, the Nigerian team has come a long way during this Olympics. From a very late arrival to winning their group and then reaching the semi-final stage was far more than even Nigerians had expected from this team. 

Playing against Germany, a team that was disciplined from start to finish, Nigeria had its chances but in the end it was the better team that deservedly moved on to the final. For me, the achilles heel was the inability to create an effective offside trap. It burned Nigeria badly in the opening game against Japan and the Swedes attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to exploit it in the next game. While we may have all forgotten, it was clear that the Germans did not. Early, they sought to exploit the weak areas in that trap. It paid off as the poor reaction time by the central defense created the winning goal after only eight minutes. From then on, it was a mountain too high to climb. Yes, Nigeria had two great chances afterwards from Sadiq exploiting a goalkeeping error and Mikel rounding up the defense, but the Germans escaped. To be sure, the Germans also had their own opportunities.

In fact, the Germans so thoroughly dominated the second period that it was hard to believe that Nigeria was the team chasing for an equalizer. There were so many misplaced Nigerian passes that it seemed the players had already given up the belief that a comeback was possible. The second German goal was surely arguably as Pieterson was offsides from just after the circle but the game had already been won and lost by then.

Troost-Ekong had a heck of a game and has now had his two strongest games for Nigeria in a row. Besides him, Mikel also played very well. After that, the rest were average at best. Shehu and Imoh, who had played so well prior to the German game, were below par. Of course, the German tactics had much to do with it. 

It will definitely be argued whether the absence of two of Nigeria's hardest midfield workers -- Etebo and Azubuike -- impacted the result of this game. Etebo, of course, sacrificed unnecessarily in a meaningless game when two reserves (Ajayi and Erimuya) had not seen a minute at the time is definitely a point worthy of discussion. As for Azubuike, it is left for him to wonder about his, unnecessary (again), ball handling that ruled him ineligible for this game. But to be frank, there is no certainty that their presence would have made a difference in the final outcome but they were two workhorses that Nigeria sorely missed.

Now, it is left for Nigeria to fight for third place with a bronze medal that may be the country's only medal at this games. Beyond that, there is much to celebrate about this team not just about its efforts to reach an unexpected medal stage but also the future that it promises for Nigeria going into the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. I wish the team luck and a better outcome going forward.