Mikel must play higher up the pitch and the five things Nigeria learnt against Uruguay

The Super Eagles were defeated for the first time in 2013 because of a lack of potent strikers who could have finished off La Celeste
By Babajide Alaka | Deputy Editor

The Super Eagles tasted defeat for the first time in 2013 and after taking sometime to sink in we will realise the defeat showed that the team is almost ready to compete with and beat some of the best teams in the world.

The Confederations Cup will have afforded the technical crew a true assessment of some of the players in the team and know which holes have to be filled in the coming months as the World Cup qualifiers get to a very critical stage.

Goal looks at some of the insights that showed forth against Uruguay.


Thursday’s 2-1 defeat was the first that the Eagles have suffered this year and the last time they lost was to Peru (another South American team) in 2012. In that time, the team has won the Nations Cup, are on the cusp of qualifying for the third round of African qualifiers for the World Cup and the team has restored the confidence of players in the local league.

The ‘Big Boss’ is definitely doing something right in helping to rebuild the national team and the good part is that he is getting results. Though he has made mistakes and continues to make them (which human being is above mistakes?), he has shown that with some patience and support, he can get the job done; though we do not clearly understand the targets that have been set for him by his employers – the Nigeria Football Federation.

What he has shown in the 20 months that he has been in charge is that a Nigerian coach can get results with the national team if he is supported, that the local league still possesses talents in abundance and that Nigeria has not been left behind in football development.


It was not about the goal that Mikel Obi scored even though that helped this assertion but the fact that the Eagles do not have a substantive playmaker makes it pertinent that Mikel is pushed directly behind the strikers.

At the Nations Cup, he had three assists without scoring but his passes most of the time prompted the forward play of the Eagles. Against Uruguay, he again showed that he can move the ball quickly in the final third and that if the chance comes he can finish.

Though this causes a problem in the balance of the team as initially he is supposed to be the second defensive midfielder but since he will push up, there is always a gap that is left behind. In South Africa, Nosa Igiebor suffered for this and against Uruguay, John Ogu suffered because he was supposed to be the offensive player but most times, Mikel was in the positions he was supposed to be occupying. So Keshi needs to affirm Mikel to go forward while looking for other defensive hands to join Ogenyi Onazi in patrolling the front of the back four.

There were some instances when the Eagles should have caused Uruguay some problems on Thursday but La Celestewere let off the hook by bad deliveries. In modern football, set pieces are strong avenues to get goals because it needs maybe one or two strikes to get the ball in the net.

We know that we missed the services of Victor Moses, who was in charge of free kicks and corners at the Nations Cup but we need to find another player apart from Mikel who is capable of delivering pin-point crosses.

There is also the issue of pulling rank when the opportunities present themselves so the coach must have the first, second and third alternatives so that it is not that – ‘I am feeling good; let me take this’ attitude that will reign. In some matches, it may just be the only opportunity to score.


Yes, it is good that the coach is giving chances to players from all over but by the end of this Confederations Cup tournament, Stephen Keshi must know that the most probable cause of not going further (this is not saying Nigeria can’t beat Spain and qualify) is that our players cannot just put the ball in the net.

It showed against Kenya and Namibia – matches in which the Eagles should have won very comfortably but for the inability of the strikers to convert their chances.

For the Eagles going forward, Joseph Akpala and Brown Ideye cannot be relied upon to get us goals. Ideye prospered at the Nations Cup because of his understanding with Emmanuel Emenike and the fact that Emenike was scoring.

Ideye scored just a goal in South Africa – that scuffed effort in the semi-final against Mali and missed many in the final against Burkina Faso. And like they say in England, he is the best striker in the channels that the Eagles currently possess.


Argentina, Peru and Uruguay all have something in common –they are all from South America and they have all beaten the Super Eagles on the world stage in the last 24 months. We need to confess the fact that we have always had problems with countries from that region – especially Brazil and the reason is not far fetched.

They are like us – play robustly, fast athletes but they are more tactically sound – which is the edge they have. They also believe that an African team is decidedly inferior, which plays out in their approach to games against African teams.

When we qualify for the World Cup, I would suggest that the team plays as many friendlies as possible against teams from that region. There will be five of them so there is every possibility that we could be grouped with one of them – let’s try to break the hoodoo before then.

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