That’s why the Corner flag is yellow, Gentlemen

by Nduka Orjinmo

The battle is not for the swift, or the fleet footed but to those with the muscle and the grit. Sunday Football Proverb.

It is not for nothing that the corner flag is mostly yellow or red. Never pink, never purple.

Yellow is for caution, yellow is to slow down, yellow is to run the clock down, when you have a one goal advantage.

So much has been said about Nigeria’s game against Burkina Faso on Sunday, much more blame has been apportioned for what clearly was 3 points dropped.

Ogenyi Onazi, Ike Uche, Ahmed Musa, Joseph Yobo, Elderson Echiejile, Godfrey Oboabona and Vincent Enyeama are the names I have heard joggled into the slow heating frying pan.

The more cynical have blamed coach Stephen Keshi, the troublemakers Osaze Odemwengie while the superstitious heaped it on the Nigerian Television stations that failed to reach broadcast agreement with the right holders.

Me, I blame the South Africans, they have never liked anything Nigeria.

Keshi went for functionality and grit over flair and creativity in his starting line-up against a Burkina Faso side he says have been together for four years.

Emmanuel Emenike, Brown Ideye and Fengor Ogude clearly chosen over the nimble ones like Ike Uche, Victor Moses (injured though) and Ogeyi Onazi.

The result was a Nigerian side that was able to compete muscle for muscle, matched ruggedness with equal ruggedness and made sure that every foul on a less muscled member of the team was swiftly retaliated-at least it looked to me like Fengor was Mikel’s hatchet man.

The bumpy and sandy pitch of the stadium in Neslpruit will quickly take the blame for the inability of the ball to continuously roll on the floor, but it was clear that the likes of Godfrey Oboabona and Echiejile on the Nigerian side and the entire Stallions back line were enjoying themselves in the opening minutes of the encounter. High balls were passed back and forth, aerial challenges aplenty.
Nigeria it was who took foothold of the game first, Mikel Obi though playing as a Central Midfielder in a double pivot, showed why he can flourish as a deep lying creator with his ball shielding and precise long balls.

In Ahmed Musa he had a runner who could chase, in Emmanuel Emenike he had a big man that could control with his chest while Brown Ideye gave him options with his movements and positioning.

He probed all balls relentlessly that came his way.

Efe Ambrose has suffered time and again in the right back position Keshi has played him in regularly, and a one game suspension couldn’t have come earlier for him, it puts him out of his misery.

Luckily, the sandy pitch did not also favour Jonathan Pitriopa or he would have exposed Efe much more than he did.

A lot has been said about Joseph Yobo, but he still is the most experienced defender the country has at the moment. Truth be said, Nigerians have never been comfortable in his ability. They always romanticize about that brief spell he had at right back in the side earlier in his career, and feel he would do best playing in that position. I agree, I await the coach brave enough to play the captain and most capped player of the Super eagles at right back and an Oboabona and Egwueke or Papa Idris in the centre.

It can’t however be discredited that the defence lacked organization and proper awareness for long spells in the game. What makes it more alarming is that the back four have played games together, so it can’t be a case of strange bed fellows.

To make individual classification would be harsh and unnecessary, but a greater sense of belief, trust confidence and communication would do them good.

Yobo and Oboabona made almost identical runs for the Burkina Faso goal. Could have been desperation to clear or it could have been a lack of trust.

Why I won’t try to question the substitutions made by Stephen Keshi, it would be interesting to find out exactly what he had in mind.

Brown Ideye, Emmanuel Emenike and Fengor Ogude were taken off for Ike Uche, Kenneth Omeruo and Ogenyi Onazi. While Ideye was taken off to bring in Omeruo who was needed at right back, Onazi came in for an Ogude that was on a yellow card and had chances of picking up another quite as distinct as he ‘Terror’ beard. A defensive midfielder on a yellow is most likely to receive a red or he losses the edge to his game.

Ike Uche is an impact sub, and underlined this hated tag with two gilt edge chances he forked out almost single handedly. So which of the three substitutions do I fault? Which would I have done differently in the same circumstance? None. Get off Keshi’s back.

It was generally a committed team we saw in the first half and one that had potentials for more goals in the second until they were reduced to ten men. The Burkinabes called on Alain Traore as the Nigerians tired and he was the catalyst that got them ticking.

This looks a decent Nigerian team with the right level of energy and when you count the absence of Victor Moses and Ike Uche coming off the bench, then shouldn’t diminish so early.

Let us worry instead about the Ethiopians, their ladies are highly diversionary.
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