Nigeria U23: What’s Going Wrong For The Dream Team?

Samson Siasia’s side once again contrived to finish a game nervily, having held a handsome half-time lead; what must be done to avoid these second-half collapses?

Many of Nigeria‘s failings from the opening day victory over Mali were present again on Wednesday as the U23 team could only manage a disappointing draw with Egypt. There was the initial struggle for control, an increasing dominance, a multiple-goal lead at half-time, and then a double-whammy kick to the guts early in the second period, leading to things falling apart in the latter stages.

In this case though, unlike the previous game, Samson Siasia’s side fell short in their period of dominance, only scoring twice, both from the penalty spot, both via the boot of Warri Wolves’ Oghenekaro Etebo.

It is not sustainable to require a team to race into a three-goal first-half lead game on game; Siasia’s great worry at this point is that, for this team, even that would not feel secure enough to guarantee victory, as the side’s two-goal advantage-ultimately squandered-showed on Wednesday. His agitation on the touchline, his clean-shaven head gleaming in the dull stadium floodlights as he waved animatedly, should perhaps also extend to his attack.

Siasia | Why are his Dream Team so prone to crumbling after going ahead?

For all the territory and dominance enjoyed, Nigeria failed to muster meaningful efforts at goal in that first period. Playing on the half-way line, Siasia’s men pinned Egypt back inside their own half, and took up good positions for the counterpress whenever the ball was lost. Yet, it took a tremendous scoop of good fortune for them to take the lead; captain Rami Rabia protested his innocence in vain as the referee pointed to the spot, with replays suggesting the ball might have come of his knee rather than his hand.

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The sense of injustice in the North Africans’ camp grew when, 10 minutes later, Etebo found the same corner from the same distance. This chip on the shoulder transformed into a newfound intensity which Nigeria proved unable to match in the ten minutes either side of half-time. In this, there is the sense Egypt made a note of the total impotence of the team in the second half against Mali, and simply decided to flick the same switch.

For the Dream Team, the obvious was a lot less effective, especially once their opponents sussed out Stanley Dimgba is only ever going to try to accelerate on the outside and attempt a cut-back. Siasia’s decision to field Taiwo Awoniyi on the right of the team’s attack has been a resounding error of judgement: he can neither consistently beat a man with pace nor with dribbling, and the on-loan Frankfurt hitman, in keeping with his striker tendencies, often took up exceptionally narrow positions, forcing the team to attack almost exclusively down the left.

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Awoniyi | Not cut out for a role on the right…

Why Siasia feels the need for this is well documented: he lamented before the tournament that his strikers were not reliable enough, but this simplistic over-compensation makes the team extremely easy to defend against.

Unsurprisingly, it is often attacking coaches, whose very ethos is predicated on trying frequently to be better than everyone else, that are most insecure—in a roundabout way, your level is dictated by that of your opponent. Siasia’s insecurities concerning his strikers are succeeding in scuppering his team’s attacking play, ironically enough.

Not to undersell the other flaws within the team: Ndifreke Effiong at left-back was caught out of position so many times, it bordered on comedic; while Usman Mohammed had nowhere near as influential a display shielding the back four as against Mali. New entrant Chizoba Amaefule fared no better than Zahradeen Bello, first of all losing Ramadan Sohby for the opener, and then deflecting past Emmanuel Daniel in the Nigerian goal.

But these complaints are essentially defensive, an area we already knew isn’t Siasia’s forte. However, his own attacking tower is crumbling at his feet, and for once in his coaching career, the former Olympic silver-winning coach seems at a loss for solutions.

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