That Nigeria qualified for the round of 16 in the ongoing FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil, does not amuse many still. This is the country’s first round of 16 appearance since 1998; it was no mince meat they got through their Group F fixtures. Going against perennial world cup rivals Argentina, debutant Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Asian champions, Iran. Neither of this team was an easy walk over, especially Iran.
Significantly though, the Super Eagles of Nigeria made it through, and the country’s citizenry went gaga. However, not a few remain convinced about the team’s chances against their next opponent: Les Bleus of France. No doubt the French finished tops in their group with 7 points, but their last group match against Ecuador, was an ordeal. It hurt the visual sensory organ to say the least, as a goalless draw could only be salvaged from a mind-numbing duel.
Cynics of the Super Eagles, do not envisage the team waltz past France like a ghost passing through a wall. It definitely will be easy for a ghost through a wall than Nigeria through France. If there is one place many pundits opine will be most heated on the pitch, it is the midfield. Can you imagine the likes of France’s midfield gendarmes Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Yohann Cabaye, Sissoko against Nigeria’s midfield corps John Mikel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi. Apprehensive right?
It has to be apprehensive! The midfield corps of the Super Eagles, leaves little for many in Nigeria, to have confidence in them. If anything, in their recent games they have been sluggish, ductile, docile and worse, technically less-advanced. With the 4-2-3-1 formation coach Stephen Keshi deployed in the games against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Argentina, the midfield should thrive.
But no, it did not thrive and possibly will not if there is no tweaking; at least just a little. The formation encourages a link player between the wing players. Someone who flourishes in the popular number 10 position: good vision for quality passes, ability to both keep the ball and distribute long projectile pinpoint passes. A player of this caliber must not feel intimidated by any opposition defense while retaining the competence to do take-ons.
It is assumed Babatunde Femi was expected to fit into the role and be that link player. In fairness to him, he was not as bad as one would expect. With due respect to him, like a actor ‘perfectly’ assuming a movie character, his play profile does not fit. Credited to have the assist for Ahmed Musa’s first World Cup goal against Argentina, Babatunde usually slipped in and out of his role. This did not work in favour of the Super Eagles most times especially when he had to play deep.
John Mikel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi on the other hand looked tazered with the ball and as such, low in awareness. Their lackluster performance seemed to negatively expose the back four who at the slightest attack at their goal, were nervy. The duo midfielders must rise to the occasion when going against France maintaining zero-tolerance docility when with the ball and going forward. It is probable Michael Uchebo will get his first start in the next encounter slotting into the attacking midfield role.