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Nigeria 1-2 England at Wembley: Talking Points

 

  • Goalkeeping area still leaves much to be desired

It’s hardly news; that when it comes to the goalkeeping department, Nigeria are, for a lack of a more appropriate term, lacking, and at Wembley it was on show again. There’s a reason why Francis Uzoho is referred to as talented but raw; from decent saves to uncertain spills, from his ability to come out and gather crosses with a fair bit of command, to Harry Kane’s goal with which he should have done better, Uzoho showed there’s still much for him to improve on. The fact he’s got this far despite mostly turning for out Deportivo’s reserves, though, is just about a preamble to how far he can get once he cements a regular place at club level.

  • If this was an audition, Joel Obi failed it

This was the game that was always going to test Nigeria. The previous friendlies weren’t quite against top opponents, and the Argentina game in November has been dismissed by a few as not-so significant. So this meeting with England at Wembley was a chance for the team to prove how far they’ve come, for one of the midfielders to grab the game by the scruff of its neck and stake their claim, especially one of the midfielders not certain of any place in the final 23. For ‘midfielder not certain of place’, read Joel Obi. This was the stage for the Torino midfielder to stake his claim in the team, offer that variety in the middle that’s different from the other archetypal Super Eagles midfielders, the variety that would make him an odd yet must-have option in Russia, and he fluffed it. His touch was as sloppy as his passes were over-hit, his attempts to play in Nigeria’s frontmen and catch the English defence off-guard amounted to little. Not that he was a sore thumb in the middle, his midfield partner Ogenyi Onazi didn’t do much good either. But Onazi has been around for a while, and his bad performances can be dismissed as one-offs. So, when you’re a player like Joel, not the first name that’s considered in midfield, and one who’s still auditioning for a place in the side, a bad performance is seen as the reason why you shouldn’t be picked. He’ll know he passed up a big chance.

  • Rohr demonstrates tactical acumen on big stage

It was hard not to be disappointed by Nigeria’s first half showing at Wembley, which was lacklustre, to say the least. It felt like the players didn’t want the ball, every time they had it they gave it back, Odion Ighalo was feeding on scraps up front, and at the back there were too many spaces, as the Eagles couldn’t cope with England’s wing-backs, and the Three Lions were actually enjoying themselves. Rohr saw this deficiency and, with the introduction of John Ogu as something of a third centre-back, as well as shifting Alex Iwobi into a more a central position, tilted the second period Nigeria’s way. Suddenly the ball wasn’t received with utter nervousness, Nigeria were winning possession in the midfield, and England were pushed back. Ultimately it wasn’t enough to even share the spoils, but the second half showing from Nigeria made England’s first half display all the more flattering to the Three Lions, whilst offering the Super Eagles encouragement ahead of the World Cup.

  • Clichéd game of two halves for Eagles

Again, the first half performance was nothing if not disappointing, just as the second period’s was impressive. But as stated earlier, it wasn’t enough, and it’s the kind of Jekyll and Hyde showing that Nigeria would have to avoid once points and substantial progress are at stake. For all the second half improvements, they had one goal, and hardly any other chance, to show for it. Plaudits are nice in friendlies, but serve next-to-nothing in the competitive games.

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