CAN 2021: To improve (against Sudan), the Super Eagles of Eguavoen must attack more slowly

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Since then, that response has slowly transformed.

While Tuesday’s win over Egypt was pivotal in that sea change, it was a YouTube video, released by digital sports news studio ATHLST, that started the process.

In it, the former Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) Technical Director spoke about the country’s historic footballing ideal and explained some of the tactical ideas behind the 1994 Super Eagles vintage.

The video – over 20 minutes long – caught fire, not so much because it appears Eguavoen would have no tactical knowledge, but because it was perhaps about the one thing every Nigerian will be happy to break bread: the 1994 team. Their success, unique as it was (and still is, because world number 5!!!), became a model, and therefore any deviation from it is an abdication.

Thus, when the former Nigerian international spoke of “wing game”, the central dogma, it was easy to make the connection with what awaited him in Cameroon.

The Super Eagles’ 1-0 triumph over the Pharaohs was hailed to heaven as a return to the identity of Nigerian football. While it is impossible to argue that the performance was not good, or that there is no reason to be optimistic based on this, it is important to realize that the actual work of transforming this performance into something more refined and, therefore, durable is not only more difficult, but still to come.

Because rough is really what it used to be.

It’s an observable phenomenon whenever a manager who strongly espouses a particular philosophy comes into play: the first game in charge is usually a cartoonish showcase of that tactical idiosyncrasy.

When Jurgen Klopp took over at Liverpool in 2015, his first assignment against Tottenham was defined entirely by pressing, almost at the expense of any real work in possession. The same thing happened when Quique Setien took charge of Barcelona in 2020: in his first game in charge, the Catalan side attempted 1,005 passes and achieved a ridiculous 82% possession share in a 1-0 win against Granada.

The win over Egypt was Eguavoen’s first competitive game (at least this time around), and the pattern continued. The performance against the seven-time African champions was pure uncut Eguavoen: extremely vertical, based on width, holds and crosses. Quintessential to caricature, his execution was arguably aided by the determination of the players and manager to draw a line in the sand beneath what had come before. It was invigorating, heady and moving.

It was also imprecise, lacking in rhythm and tempo variations, and frenetic.

There was some consternation at half-time when the stat card appeared on TV coverage and Egypt had recorded a greater share of possession, especially as Nigeria passed what seemed to be large swathes of the opening period on offense and had dominated heavily. territory and chances.

However, given that in many models possession is a function of passes and not time spent on the ball, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It also told a story: the Super Eagles rarely tried to establish any kind of sustained control in deep central areas, and even passes that were played down the middle were simply aimed at facilitating balls to the wingers.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with being direct per se. It is important to establish it. There is no singular module for football.

However, whatever the form or strategy, certain principles retain their relevance. If you wish to be ultra-direct, there is a risk, as with any other approach. To use the wisdom of Juanma Lillo, “the faster the ball goes, the faster it comes back”. It is the peril that accompanies it. And while Egypt’s tactics that day were abstruse and chaotic, there were spaces to exploit on the counter due to problems in Nigeria’s defensive set-up when it came to defending at rest.

There’s also the often overlooked utility of varying the tempo as a means of breaking down opponents. While Nigeria have had enough chances to score more than them, how many have they really been on the wire? Not enough, especially in light of their opponent’s poor overall performance.

This was partly because the team was largely playing at one (green) speed.

In combat sports, the need to vary attacks and use different tools – even a single tool in different ways – is well understood. For example, a boxer will typically establish a rhythm and tempo to put their opponent to sleep, before attacking by breaking that rhythm and catching the opponent off guard.

By having different speeds, it is easier to create openings; if all you throw is a right hand (or a cross) every two seconds, then your opponent can just bombard and take the hits to their arms without too much vital damage.

This is why a more considered tempo is sometimes necessary. (There is, of course, the small fitness issue in a more transitional game, but that’s a separate concern.)

It’s the work of resolving these issues before they become terminal – through more patient buildup and/or better defensive organization – that lies ahead, and that must be resumed if the Super Eagles are to have any chance of winning. actually go all the way. Enthusiasm and energy will go no further, especially against a more savvy and less self-sabotaging opposition.

What we had on Tuesday was like harvesting a cocoa pod and eating a bean: the hint of what chocolate should have, but only a hint. What comes next is refinement, and that’s the hardest part, but necessary.

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