Iran vs. Nigeria: 5 Things We Learned
Nigeria’s World Cup hangs in the balance following a disappointing opening draw with Iran. While Team Melli deserve credit for their defensive resiliency, they were hardly tested by a hapless Super Eagles side.
Despite enjoying 63 percent of the possession, Nigeria were lacking cohesion in the final third and were frustratingly prone to long-range shots and misplaced passing.
There was an overall lack of vitality or energy about the performance, and with Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina lying in wait, it becomes difficult to imagine how they will manage to escape from Group F.
An injury to Godfrey Oboabona, particularly coming on top of the pre-tournament problem suffered by Elderson Echiejile, means that coach Stephen Keshi has a number of issues to deal with before the Super Eagles meet the Eastern Europeans on Saturday.
Super Eagles’ Progress in Doubt
The side whose reputation was enhanced the most during the Nigeria vs. Iran match was Bosnia. While the Super Eagles and Team Melli played out a dour 90 minutes in Curitiba, the Eastern Europeans watched on from the comfort of their hotels knowing that the knockout rounds were edging ever closer.
Heading into the tournament, Argentina were considered the group-winners elect, Iran were deemed to be no-hopers, and Bosnia and Nigeria were expected to fight it out for second place.
Against Argentina in Group F’s first match, Safet Susic’s men did themselves proud. They made the Albiceleste look very average for long swathes of the match and even managed more shots than their more illustrious opponents.
It took a moment of inspiration from Lionel Messi to win the contest, and there was little to separate the two sides.
Unfortunately for Nigeria, there wasn’t too much to separate them and Iran.
While Bosnia are bottom of the group after the first round of matches, the Dragons will be hugely confident that they can claim a pair of victories against the Africans and the Asians.
The gulf in class was not between Bosnia, Nigeria and Iran, but between Bosnia and Nigeria, Iran. A massive improvement is needed.
Odemwingie Not the Answer People Had Hoped For
After scoring six goals in the Premier League this season, Peter Odemwingie returned to the national side for the provisional World Cup squad of 30. The Stoke City striker patched up his differences with coach Stephen Keshi and returned to the fold.
He was needed. Nigeria looked toothless for the majority of 2013 and were beginning to rely heavily on the talents of Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike.
When Odemwingie entered the fray against Scotland in a pre-tournament friendly, he received a hero’s welcome. Here was a player, or so the fans thought, who would give the Super Eagles a menace and a genuine threat in attack.
Over the subsequent matches, Odemwingie has done anything but that.
The euphoria is dripping away from Osaze’s return. Nigeria married an opera singer only to learn she’s lost her voice.
The former West Bromwich Albion player was reduced to a substitute capacity against Iran, and while he contributed a few nice touches when he came on, he largely failed to increase the Super Eagles’ attacking threat.
As the games roll on, Nigeria fans may need to begin looking elsewhere for their offensive inspiration.
Keshi Lacking Innovation
Stephen Keshi received great praise for his tactical work during 2013.
Writing on Bleacher Report, Jonathan Wilson praised the Big Boss for his approach during the successful Africa Cup of Nations and the way he had made his team into something more than the sum of its parts.
Wilson’s words seem a little empty now.
Faced with a resolute and organised defence—as Iran certainly have under Carlos Queiroz—there are several ways to break it down.
One way is to use width, to overlap the flanks using wide players and attacking full-backs. While Nigeria do, in principle, have the players who can contribute here, Keshi either didn’t pick them, or those he did pick have been underused.
It was bewildering when, early in the second half, Keshi removed Victor Moses, a player who has been so effective in troubling stubborn defenders since he made his international debut.
Another way of troubling a disciplined defence is by increasing the movement of the forwards and the pace of the attack.
Keshi’s Nigeria seemed resistant to do either of these things. The midfield play was lethargic and pedestrian, while his decision to turn to Shola Ameobi (who has scored five Premier League goals over the last three seasons) was hardly going to help the mobility issues.
Lack of Offensive Options
Beyond the tactical issues, it is becoming ever more apparent that Keshi’s squad-selection decisions were poorly thought through.
The Big Boss hasn’t used his 23 picks intelligently enough to give himself options off the bench, and in a tournament such as the World Cup, this is imperative, particularly considering the capricious form of the front three.
In midfield, the starting trio of John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi and Ramon Azeez—all of whom were disappointing against Iran—are supported only by the peripheral Reuben Gabriel on the bench.
For a team that plays a 4-3-3 formation only to take four central midfielders is obscene, and it means that the Eagles have reduced options to change the nuances and qualities of their midfield.
All of this while the likes of Sunday Mba, Joel Obi, Lukman Haruna, Nosa Igiebor and Nnamdi Oduamadi are left at home.
In attack, the options are barely more convincing. Struggling for a goal, Keshi turned to Shola Ameobi and Peter Odemwingie. Together, these two scored eight league goals last season. Ikechukwu Uche, by contrast, scored 14 in 19 starts in La Liga, but he was left out.
Victor Obinna, Ideye Brown, Chinedu Obasi and Sone Aluko are similarly absent, while Uche Nwofor, Michael Babatunde and Ameobi have travelled.
As soon as the squad was named, it became hard to envisage Nigeria having the depth to go far in the competition. Seeing how ineffectual Keshi’s options are, it’s become difficult even to see the Eagles out of the group.
A Defensive Headache
All three areas of the outfield—defence, midfield and attack—look in bad shape, but it may prove to be the defence that is the greatest concern.
At the back, Keshi is paying the price for not assessing a wider variety of options over the last 18 months. Left-back Elderson Echiejile was ruled out ahead of the tournament, while stalwart centre-back Godfrey Oboabona was removed due to an injury partway through the first half against Iran.
In their place, Keshi will likely need to field the unconvincing Juwon Oshaniwa and the ageing Joseph Yobo. The latter was exposed badly by Jozy Altidore in the pre-match friendly against the United States, while, tellingly, neither man played for the Super Eagles between February 2013 and May 2014.
Heading into battles against the menacing threats of Bosnia (complete with Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko and Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanic) and Argentina (Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel di Maria and Sergio Aguero), Nigeria have a defence lacking the understanding and experience of playing together and developing as a unit.
This while established players such as Taye Taiwo have been entirely ignored by Keshi.