Etebo: The Silver lining in Nigeria’s Defeat
Nigeria had an abysmal start at the FIFA World Cup in Russia as they were defeated by Croatia 2 – 0. The loss to Croatia by the three-time African champions means that all the three African representations that have played a match so far all lost their opening encounters. The Super Eagles resumed the match showing some flashes of brilliance and sending the Croats to deep-defending. Empirically, Nigeria was not outclassed by the technically adept Croatians. The first-half ended with a Mario Mandzukic header deflecting off Nigeria defender, Oghenekaro Etebo.
In the second half, Nigeria’s woes were compounded when William Troost-Ekong writhed Mario Mandzukic to the ground following a corner kick from Luka Modric and the referee didn’t waste any time in awarding Croatia a penalty. Luka Modric deftly converted the penalty by sending Francis Uzoho the wrong way. Three things have always stood in the way of the Nigerian team for the past six matches – the inability to defend set-pieces properly, an amorphous formation by Gernot Rohr, the coach and slowing down counter-attacking moves. The Nigerians were lethargic and too reverent of the Croatians and they were punished for it.
In the warm-up games to the World Cup, Nigeria conceded goals from set-pieces – a free kick by Ever Banega of Argentina, Tomas Kalas of Czech Republic rebound effort following a Tomas Soucek’s header and a Gary Cahill of England header following a corner kick. With the match against Croatia, Nigeria started out defending setpieces well but couldn’t sustain it throughout the course of the match. Every time an opportunity for counterattacks availed itself, the Nigerian players especially John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses slowed down and tried regrouping from the back. With the Nigerian skipper being substituted in the 88′ minute, it buttressed how strategically inefficient Gernot Rohr approached the match.
MANAGER AND PLAYERS RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1 – 10. 10 BEING THE BEST)
3 – GERNOT ROHR: The Nigerian coach approached the match with an amorphous formation with his only vindication being starting Etebo who was impressive. Croatia’s first and second goal showed that he hasn’t sorted out the set-piece challenge that was all too evident during the friendly matches in preparation for the World Cup.
5.5 – FRANCIS UZOHO: The goalkeeper made some decent saves during the match but his habitually shooting the ball into play was counterproductive.
4 – ADBULLAHI SHEHU: He lacked vitality and played with some iota of fear. Just like he played against England, he allowed too many crosses to be conceded.
5.5 – WILLIAM TROOST-EKONG: Played well till he committed a foul on Mario Mandzukic in the 18-yard area. That mistake demoralised the team and gave Croatia the edge.
6.5 – LEON BALOGUN: He martialled the defense well and played well absolutely even though he’s yet to attain 100% match fitness.
6.5 – BRIAN IDOWU: He had a fairly decent game, positioned well and provided a good cross to Odio Ighalo in the second half of the encounter.
5.5 – WILFRED NDIDI: He availed the Croatians a lot of space in midfield to operate unfettered. Could have done better.
3.5 – JOHN OBI MIKEL: Absolutely abysmal performance from the Nigeria’s captain. He made a couple of backpasses and absolutely wrong passes moving forward. Failed to inspire the team and appeared disoriented midway into the match.
7.5 – OGHENEKARO ETEBO: Besides the error he made in the first half that resulted in an own goal, Etebo was the silverlining in the Nigeria team that was abysmal. He was the most hardworking and most creative Nigeria player on the field.
3.5 – VICTOR MOSES: Victor Moses kept falling on the floor looking for the ever elusive penalty kick. He was lucky he wasn’t penalised for diving on numerous occasions. He was disappointing in the match and deserved to be substituted.
5 – ODION IGHALO: He played upfront alone and was isolated for the most part. Had a very average performance.
6 – ALEXANDER IWOBI: He was played out of position and couldn’t influence as much as he should.