Nigeria and Kenya stalemate: REALITY CHECK FOR KESHI

Posted by Nelson Dafe | 24 March 2013 | 3,980 times

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The subtitle of this piece could be seen as suspiciously a misnomer. This is because Keshi and his boys could never have been unprofessional enough to have underrated the Kenyans. I can imagine the coaches having drummed into the heads of the lads the importance of 100 per cent focus for 90 minutes. But I’m going to try to defend this subtitle by making the argument that tactically the Eagles coaching crew have (hopefully) received a jolt, and they can improve their tactical reading of games when they are already in progress.

It was clear from the early minutes of the encounter against the Kenyans what their game plan was in yesterday’s Brazil 2014 World Cup qualifier in Calabar. They had come to defend in numbers and occasionally break out to attack with devastating quickness. In a solid and in-form Victor Wanyama, one of the most highly rated defensive midfielders in world football at the moment, the Harambee Stars knew that the Eagles would have to be extra-ordinary to break them down. Unfortunately, the extraordinary was what Keshi and his lads could not produce to win the maximum points.

Now, there are two phases (or there should be) in dealing with the tactical aspects of a match. The pre-match phase is that in which coaches prepare their teams in anticipation of the kind of opposition that they would face, and the tactical shape they would like to adopt. The second phase is the in-game phase where the coaches ‘read’ the game and respond to challenges that have to do with how the game is going at the time.

The Eagles started the game in total control. One does not need to fuss about the players that were asked to start, even though many felt that Obafemi Martins looked like a stranger to the Super Eagles fold. However, after going a goal down at the late stage of the first half, the tactical response in the second half should have been more savvy and braver.

Wanyama did a great job neutralising the usually deadly run from midfield of Mba, as the Kenyans dropped back even further in the second half. Penetrating them from the middle was a practical impossibility. Usually in such situations, the flanks can prove crucial. Unfortunately, apart from Victor Moses, we did not have players with the requisite skills to dribble through or offer decent crosses in the starting line-up.

When the time came to make changes, I was especially interested in how brave Keshi would be. The first change was to bring in Ahmed Musa to the right flank, while he pulled out the ineffective Martins. That was not a bad change. But it soon became clear that the Kenyan defence still looked impenetrable. The next changes became very crucial.

It seems clear to me that Ahmed Musa, for all his speed, is not the kind of player who has enough dribbling skills in him to take on defenders that drop deep. When Oduamadi was to be brought in (I think with the skills he has got, he should have come in earlier) I would have taken off the right back, and allowed Musa to make runs from deep. We were up against a team that was no longer attacking at all, and inviting us to throw all we had at them. Playing with a complete back four when we were trailing was a baffling decision.

Our full backs were not really offering any attacking threats yesterday. No meaningful crosses, nor serious incursions into the enemy half. With Musa making runs from deep, and Moses staying on as a right winger, with Oduamadi playing as a dribbling left winger, where I think he is most effective, we would have caused the Kenyans much more trouble in my opinion. Also, Mikel should have been instructed to drop deep to keep an eye on the space that Musa would be leaving behind as a flying full back.

Instead, what we had where to like for like changes that did not really positively alter the shape of our game.

Good coaches prepare their teams well for games, great coaches alter the course of games when they are trailing with tactical and brave changes that would leave viewers with no doubt about their intelligence level. Keshi must work harder to earn the title of a great coach.

For the first time as Eagles coach, he faced the challenge of going a goal down at home against an opponent that came to pack the bus, and one hopes that this match will make him to reflect better on his reading of match situations.

•Dafe, whose photograph appears alongside this article, is a Benin-based journalist and football analyst.

Source: News Express

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