COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
There may well be a lesson here, in rising from adversity, in eking it out in a fashion that had not been done previously under this management. However, it was an unnecessary toil, one which might have been quite easily avoided.
It had all started so well, and by the time Ahmed Musa danced through the flimsy curtain of red in the Libyan penalty area to squeeze the second home, it seemed another pasting was on the cards.
The Super Eagles were soaring early on, buoyed by Alex Iwobi’s excellence, Odion Ighalo’s energy and a commonsense approach to self-preservation: the ball zipped across the turf, players dropped into pockets of space intelligently, and picked the right moments to vary the tempo of the passing.
Yet, after the opening 25 minutes, it all came a cropper. A two-goal lead may be notoriously treacherous, but even beyond the evanescence of that margin, there were deep fissures within the team, both in terms of composition and technical input, that meant that door was always ajar.
THE NDIDI-ETEBO DOUBLE PIVOT
The consequence of injury to Ogenyi Onazi was the use of Oghenekaro Etebo in a deep-lying midfield role.
There are, of course, many strings to the Stoke City player’s bow, but he simply is not this type of player.
Etebo is in his element when carrying the ball into the final third, and lacks the vision and discipline required to play a holding role. Invariably, and unsurprisingly, the Super Eagles gave up a ton of chances, and were slowly pegged back.
Not big on Etebo in a deep role. He isn't stylistically similar to Onazi either.— Solace Chukwu (@TheOddSolace) October 13, 2018
The last time he played in a double pivot, @NGSuperEagles won 4-1 vs Algeria but gave up a number of chances in that zone in front of the defence. Should be interesting to observe today.
Often in the second half, Libya had space in behind the Nigeria midfield to run at the backline, and both Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong had their most uncertain showings in a long time with little cover in front of them.
Even more remarkably, there was a specialist holding midfielder, in the form of John Ogu, on the bench, but he would only be introduced after Libya’s comeback was complete.
FAILING TO STEM THE LIBYA TIDE
For all that Gernot Rohr’s reign as Super Eagles boss has been productive results-wise, his ability to influence the game as it goes on has been consistently the weakest aspect of his work.
Time and again, he has found himself out-managed by his opposite number, and at a loss as to what to do to stem the tide. The debacle against Argentina, where he failed to address the Albiceleste’s rising menace through the second half, still rankles.
In Sfax again, he was again caught out. As Nigeria lost control of the game toward the end of the first half and into the second, it was obvious that there needed to be reinforcement in the middle of the park to act as a breakwater. With Samuel Kalu struggling to fulfil any sort of responsibility, either defensively or offensively, he ought to have been sacrificed earlier for Ogu to come on.
Instead, it was only after Libya had found a leveller that Rohr shook himself out of his daze to make a sub.
By this point, the Super Eagles had been under the cosh for over 20 minutes in the second period.
INDULGING POOR PERFORMANCE
One of the cornerstones of behavioural training is the incentivization of good behaviour/performance, as well as punishment of bad. Rohr, over the two legs against Libya, and over the course of his time in charge of the Super Eagles, has failed to grasp this.
Case in point: Samuel Kalu.
For the second game running, the Bordeaux winger put up a weak showing. However, while, in the first leg, it was mainly about his poor decision-making in positions of promise, in Sfax it was a complete lack of tactical awareness and discipline.
- Really weak showing from both full-backs tonight, nearly cost @NGSuperEagles— Solace Chukwu (@TheOddSolace) October 16, 2018
- Samuel Kalu, at this present time, is wanting in his tactical understanding of his role.
- Gernot Rohr's in-game management is underwhelming. Also, the sun rises in the east. What else is new?
His unwillingness to stick to the right side of the pitch and take advantage of potential overloads robbed the teams of other avenues of attack. While it could be chalked up to the impatience of youth and wanting to join in on the fun on the left-hand side, Rohr ought to impressed upon him what was required.
More worryingly, it exposed Ola Aina quite a bit in defensive transitions.
In spite of these, Rohr left Kalu on till very late on, when the team would clearly have been better served with a more disciplined player, especially in the second half. There is even an argument to be made that, on his performance in the first leg, he ought to have been dropped altogether.