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Czechs bounce Nigeria’s World Cup send-off party

Nigeria’s last friendly before the World Cup ended in a 1-0 defeat to the Czech Republic at the Rudolf-Tonn Stadion in Rannersdorf, Austria.  The Czech defeat made it two on the bounce following last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to England at Wembley Stadium.

The match’s lone goal came in the 25th minute from Tomas Kalas, the Chelsea defender who spent last season on loan at Fulham.  It came from a short corner, following a spell of Czech pressure,  culminating in a save from Nigerian goalie Francis Uzoho, who could only push the ball back into play for Kalas to sweep in the rebound from close range.

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Uzoho looked a lot more confident than he did against England, plucking crosses from the air with a lot of authority and barking instructions to his defenders.   It was an all-round better performance from the Super Eagles than the England match and they kept the ball better.

Credit for this must go to Leicester City’s holding midfielder Wilfred Ndidi, whose return from a hamstring injury added steel and control to the heart of Nigeria’s midfield.  Ndidi could have levelled things on 35 minutes when he let fly from 25 yards, but his shot drew a fingertip save from Czech keeper Tomas Vaclik.

Striker Odion Ighalo was too isolated, didn’t get much service and had to feed off scraps.  Alex Iwobi was dropping too deep and wasn’t providing effective support for Ighalo.  Additionally, Nigeria’s full-backs Brian Idowu and Shehu Abdullahi didn’t really provide much attacking threat from wide areas.

Tyrone Ebuehi replaced Abdullahi at the break and things started happening down the right.  Coach Gernot Rohr will need to make a big decision on whether Ebuehi should start against Croatia in just 10 days time.  Idowu did relatively well defensively but made a hat-trick of bad decisions when he failed to find a team-mate in attacking positions in the 54th, 59th and 67th minute.  Ighalo couldn’t hide his frustrations and Idowu was subbed for Elderson Echiejile after the last error.

Ighalo buzzed with intent while he was on the pitch and executed his famed “Iggy Scoop” to beat a defender down the left before crossing, but the chance was missed when Victor Moses got his attempted back-heel all wrong.  The former Watford striker was replaced by Simeon Nwankwo after 68 minutes as Nigeria applied pressure in search of an equaliser.  Nwankwo looked tidy on the ball without threatening the Czech goal.  Ahmed Musa and Kelechi Iheanacho were also thrown in by coach Rohr in place of Moses and Mikel Obi, all to no avail.

This was not really how Nigeria fans wanted to send-off their Russia-bound team and many slammed the team’s performance on social media.  While the team seemed to be gelling more, providing ammunition for either Ighalo or Iheanacho must be a massive worry.  With midfield usually congested, full-backs should be providing the outlets and Moses should be helping stretch play down the flanks instead of moving in in search of the ball.

A lot has been made of the new Super Eagles shirt, which seems to be a throwback to the one Nigeria hit the world stage with during the 1994 World Cup.

But back then, with an array of attacking talent such as Rasheed Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, Finidi George and Jay Jay Okocha, Nigeria believed that they would always outscore any opposition, no matter how many they conceded.  Nigeria Version 2018 doesn’t seem to have a lot of goals in them and may be better off focusing on keeping it tight and conceding less.

The fear right now among Nigerian fans is that they could win the fashion stakes with the team’s kit and get the wooden spoon for performances on the pitch.


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