Watching the Eagles: RED WINE INSTEAD OF SLEEP.

By Nduka Orjinmo
I had contemplated a 4-4-2 formation with Shola Ameobi and Obafemi Martins leading the Eagles attack.

It seemed the logical thing to contemplate, with one, big and strong with aerial ability and the other stocky and fast with excellent balance. The fact that both had also played for Newcastle together at some point, made the reality of such an execution more plausible. But I am not the coach.

It was good to see the return of Obafemi Martins back in the Eagles fold. He is one fantastic player with ability perhaps only he has in the world: that instantaneous acceleration without need to build momentum. Once he starts, it is with top speed.

Keshi went for a 4-2-1-3 formation with Nosa Igiebor just behind Martins. At times when the Eagles attacked, I felt that it looked like a 4-2-4 formation with the flanks terribly exposed. The Venezuelans did not even need to overload our full back positions to get access, Solomon Kwanbe at right back like Efe Ambrose in the Liberia game left much to be desired defensively and my fear is that a more tactical side would overload our flanks with two on one situations with devastating effect.

With the right back leaky, Azubuike Egwueke on the right side of Central defence had to cross over severally to help. But he too was horrible on the night. For a big man, Egwueke is not the fastest and regrettably, I can’t point to that resource he brings to the defence. He is not rugged, not brave in aerial challenges and does not bring the ball out of defence calmly. I recommend that he studies Arsenal’s Per Metersacker who is so much built like him. What the German lacks in pace, he makes up for in calmness and precision in tackles.

The only stand out performer in the defence was Elderson Echiejile. He played his game. Calm on the ball, brilliant in his calculations-knowing when to tuck in and when to stay wide-and also matching the offensive side of his game with his duties at the back. With the sojourn of Juwon Oshinawan to pastures green, he has made the position his own. Not that Juwon was going to usurp him anyway, but that position currently lacks competition. What Echiejile needs now is a steady partner ahead of him, someone he can form a long lasting understanding and partnership with. The sort enjoyed by Ben Iroha and Emmanuel Amuneke.

Godfrey Oboabona will go to the Nations Cup, just because he is a home based player who is yet to leave the shores of the NPL and also due to his level of involvement with Keshi. But that it is where it will end. He will not start a match unless either of Efe Ambrose or Joseph Yobo is injured or suspended. If Onyekachi Apam does return, he will slip further down the pecking. His level of concentration is untrustworthy, his awareness poor, his decision making rash and his positioning outrageous.

All night, the defence kept flirting with a Venezuelan goal until Oboabona finally gifted away possession for a goal that was long coming. He is a player that thrives alongside the more experienced Joseph Yobo or Efe Ambrose, but left alone to lead the defence like the case was last night, he repeatedly let the team down with some terrible defending. Against a strike force that knows their business and a less brave goalkeeper, the result could be humiliating.

Former Eagles striker Jonathan Akpoborie argued that the midfielders in the last game against Liberia didn’t perform well because of the defenders, a point I retrospectively agreed with. The midfield yesterday was no less impressive though the defence was poor.

Three times have I watched Ogeyi Onazi, three times have I been disappointed. Twice for Nigeria, once for Lazio against Tottenham. On each occasion, I found it difficult to know what his brief was on the pitch, and he too looked on each occasion like he didn’t know. Is he supposed to be the box-to-box player in a double pivot midfield or the destroyer? Is he there to break up attacks or to initiate them? Good thing is that the midfield is chocked with far more quality, so he may not make it to the Nations Cup. But if he does, I wonder what he will bring to the team. He kept trying to hit long diagonal balls which he performed woefully at, and his close control is not reliable.

Sadly, Henry Uche of Enyimba was unable to contribute much to the game after picking up an injury in the first half. He is a player whose sense of positioning and appreciation of space has caught my eye repeatedly when I watch him for Enyimba and in bits for the Eagles.

Ahead of the central midfielders was my man of the match Nosa Igiebor. He is so tactically gifted and is one of the few Nigerian players I have seen in a while, who can comfortably interpret the role expected of him. I watched him first against Liberia play in the hole behind Emmanuel Emenike and though he started too high up the pitch, he later sank into the role beautifully. He picked up the thread yesterday and ran the show in the middle. His link up play with the short passes was simple and incisive while his spread of passes was productive. However, I’m yet to see that consistent final ball from him to the strikers.

Martins, Ideye and Dike were starved upfront and much of it is down to the supply. My ideal trident in midfield would be Gabriel Reuben and Mikel Obi as the pivots with Nosa Igiebor at the tip. Mikel would be the one to initiate play, Reuben would be the box-to-box with the destroyer addendum while Nosa will be slightly relieved of the marking duties to provide that creativity and number upfront.

It was sad to see Ejike Uzoenyi substituted after only coming on as a sub. Only in June was he the toast of the team, but right now it looks like he may not be at the nations Cup. I don’t know why he was substituted for Umar Zango, whether it was substitution for substitution sake or it had a tactical bearing. His confidence must have been damaged by the removal.

Onazi’s goal is a typical example of what a big man can offer you upfront playing as the lone man. Ameobi picked the ball close to the line inside the box, showed great strength to shake off his marker before having the composure and technique to weigh the ball onto the path of Onazi.

That is what a Shola can offer with his build, but it is still unclear how Keshi wants to use him if he does take him the South Africa. Variety is the essence when it comes to picking a squad for a tournament, and Keshi has three big strikers to choose from. There is the experienced Ameobi who had his first taste of African football yesterday, there is Emmanuel Emenike scoring goals for his Russian club, and there is Kalu Uche, former Enyimba man who transferred to Kisampasa in Turkey and has bagged a few goals for them.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad game. It brought back memories of the USA 94 World Cup and the Olympics in Atlanta in 96.

Sadly, I now owe the sleep-master, a shylock of a creditor who always takes more than is owed.
You can follow Nduka Orjinmo on twitter via @orjinmonduka
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