This article looks back on the Super Eagles' clash with Mexico and asks whether a lack of playing time for some of the regulars may hurt Keshi's World Cup aspirations
By James Ezimoha
It was certainly no surprise to see Stephen Keshi’s men struggling for air, rhythm and cohesion at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.
The draw against Mexico made it a hat-trick of stalemates between the two nations; in the last three duels, no team could profit from their opportunities, despite victory being there for the taking.
For the Mexicans, it was one of those games that underlined the fact that the team still have some maturing to do. The Dome was literally filled to capacity with a partisan crowd of Mexican supporters but they couldn’t tap into the advantage provided by the crowd.
One wouldn’t expect to see Brazil, for example, struggling to find the back of the net when playing on home ground or enjoying huge support from a crowd with 90% Selecao supporters in.
In fact, the team is so mature that even when playing away from home, they conjure, as it were, the so-called 12th man advantage within themselves and play with more confidence than the supposedly home team; just ask Bafana Bafana.
Moses | Evidence of ring rust against Mexico
The tactical ingenuity or intentional defiance of the Mexican coach, Miguel Herrera, to inject his foreign-based players into a team of predominantly local based players, who had impressed in their absence, left another big question mark.
The Big Boss, however, managed to gather the bulk of his players, who, in all fairness, have been playing together for more than a year now.
Out of the five new faces in the Super Eagles camp, only Michael Uchebo was given the nod, to fill the ‘mysterious’ ‘Third Man’ role in the midfield. Keshi was expecting to somehow rekindle the fluidity and understanding between his ‘big guns’, but they failed to fire; obviously, they were (and are) rusty.
Two key individuals who have played very crucial roles in the recent upward-movement of the team, and have directly or indirectly been responsible for Keshi’s success, were glaringly lacking match sharpness; Victor Moses and John Obi Mikel
The effects of the worrisome situations of the Nigerian pair at Liverpool and Chelsea, respectively, has been revealed and suffered by the Super Eagles.
Since the arrival of Nemanja Matic, in the January transfer window, Mikel has been reduced to a mere bit-part player who only comes on to ‘steady the ship’ or to ‘protect a lead’ with only 15 minutes to play. With the aforementioned Matic, Ramires, Frank Lampard, and even defender, David Luiz, all ahead of him in the pecking order, the bench has become Mikel’s best friend.
Moses, on the other hand, has let down so many with his attitude, falling from grace at Anfield.
The pacy winger, who ought to have made a wide position of the front-three in the Liverpool team his own, has since been axed from the starting eleven. A sudden awkward disinterest in proceedings on the pitch after a barren run of games has left Brendan Rogers no other choice but to put faith in young Raheem Sterling. The English man hasn’t looked back.
Mikel | Occasionally looked off the pace in Georgia
The little playing time afforded Mikel at Chelsea since the turn of the year seems to be draining the little portion of creativity, magic and energy left in him. His positional indiscipline, especially in the first half, as explained by Goal’s Solace Chukwu, left Ogenyi Onazi with an overstretched task of marking his man and that of Mikel’s, causing the entire team to reshape and readjust. This resulted in Mexico being clean through on goal on several occasions.
It was plain to see that the composure and command Mikel exuded over the midfield was nowhere near his usual majestic best. He managed to create two chances after being relieved of his defensive duties following the introduction of Ramon Azeez. The player at the end of those (two) chances and the particularly peculiar results of those chances is a topic for another day.
Chukwu, who described the Mexico vs. Nigeria result as a fair one, shed more light on the irrefutable fact that the big guns in the Super Eagles need urgent lubrication.
Analysis of the reaction of the Super Eagles’ full backs to nullify the threat posed by the two Mexican forwards revealed that the transition to a 4-4-1-1 formation to counter the 3-5-2 formation of the Mexicans gave Nigeria a “numerical superiority on the flanks” which “was not exploited”.
Anyone who has followed the Super Eagles since their AFCON victory in 2013 will attest that without the vital contributions of Victor Moses from wide positions, the history books might have been different. Moses tore defences apart with his blistering pace, fleet-footed dribbles, composed movements and eye for goal, attributes that have made him one of Keshi’s ‘untouchables’.
Much of Nigeria’s offensive play flows from Moses’s position and his inability to joyfully and fruitfully exploit the spaces left by the Mexicans made the Super Eagles look like barking dogs with no genuine capacity to bite.
In this awkward reality, Keshi can do little or nothing to change the fate of his bench-warming Eagles scattered all over the world.
A tweet from football journalist, Temisan Okomi, sums this up: “…no goals, but good team shape considering how much football his team gets…”
Hopefully it’s not a reality we will live to regret this summer.