Nigeria have struggled to find rhythm, conceding late goals to throw points away.
Nigeria were denied a victory by Zambia in a result that could serve as a sign of things to come. Missing a penalty and then seeing the same goalkeeper earn Zambia a point isn’t going to instill a lot of confidence in the team. And being without a win is going to make a lot of people nervous, even at this early stage.
Captain Vincent Enyeama’s decision to rail at the referees in both games is a sign of frustration that can only harm the team going forward. Enyeama’s comments pulled no punches, via EuroSport.Yahoo.com:
It was the worst decision I have seen live. I don't know what is happening with the officiating. We had a terrible official in the first game too. But a decision like the one today does not belong in African football, and certainly not in a match of the magnitude of the champions against Nigeria. I am really mad about it.
A captain has to show commitment to his team, and sometimes it’s an intense speech like this that can make the difference. However, regardless of the decision, the fact remains that the referee didn’t make John Obi Mikel miss that penalty, which in turn leads to the next question.
Why was Mikel, who has never scored in 261 Premier League appearances for Chelsea, stepping up to take the spot kick?
He hasn’t been the best option for Nigeria in this tournament, and he was the wrong choice for this task.
Do Nigeria have it in them to win the African Cup of Nations?
Emmanuel Emenike, who found the target in the 57th minute, would rank as a prime candidate to take the penalty and see Nigeria through to victory. Emenike has a good eye for the goal, scoring in both his team’s games and looking like a player to keep an eye on.
It’s important that Nigeria has a player who can take these sorts of opportunities, especially when facing the reigning champions. Emenike could be that player, and Nigeria needs to encourage this free-scoring tendency.
Instead, they have failed to close out their first two games from a winning position—a run that started when Burkina Faso equalised with the last kick of the game to rescue a point and begin Nigeria’s frustration.
This inability to finish off teams is something that can snowball across a tournament and lead to an early exit.
Opposing teams will always feel there is the opportunity for a late equaliser or winner. It could eventually be so consistent that Nigeria almost expect to concede toward the end of games.
Inevitably, this leads to shipping more goals.
Nigeria has to prove they can dominate a game, not just put in a patchy performance and expect to win the game. Mikel—despite his problems finding the net—should be shoring up the midfield and enabling his side to control possession through the middle.
Instead, Nigeria looks vulnerable, and the worst part of the late goals conceded is that it was no surprise at all to see them go in.
That’s not going to carry them to glory this year, and the frustration of these early games is only going to spill into the next ones as the tournament goes on.