Nigeria hosted Argentina at the Abuja National Stadium. On display was a top rate Nigerian squad against an Argentine C Team (followers of the Serie A should note that no player from Catania played though).
Nigerian Head-Coach Samson Siasia played his now standard 4-2-3-1 which became a 4-4-1-1 when defending. Joel Obi and Mikel Obi formed the midfield base (double pivot). Both players were allowed to take turns to move forward with the ball. The full-backs were also encouraged to overlap.
Argentine Coach Sergio Sergio Batista played his now standard 4-3-3 but the central striker was Boselli, something of a classic No. 9, different to the more mobile Messi who plays in the position. Bolatti played as a deep playmaker (regista) for the side while Tino Costa and Belluschi were encouraged to get forward from their midfield positions. Both full-backs were also given the freedom to overlap while Gaitan and Perotti switched positions from time-to-time.
THE FIRST 45
Argentina played a high pressing game with all 3 forwards pressing the Nigeria back-line. The Nigerian defenders displayed good composure on the ball though and the presence of Mikel and Joel also helped the side keep possession and allow measured build-ups. Both Obis (especially Joel) took turns to get forward frequently targeting the wider regions. Play was frequently directed towards the left flank with Taye Taiwo frequently making runs down his flank. Nigeria didn’t have a spare player in midfield over the Argentines but the Nigerian players in midfield had a lot more chemistry than their Argentine counterparts. This was to be expected considering the Argentine squad was something of a B/C team made up of players who haven’t played together.
Nigeria took the lead in the 11th minute after a corner kick. The corner kick was cleared but the midfield double pivot (both Obis) was positioned ahead of the box and they gained possession of the ball. After some quick interplay between the pair, Joel Obi ran down the Nigerian right flank using his skill to go past two markers and crossed into the box for Ikechukwu Uche to score. Argentina had 3 defenders marking 3 Nigerian forwards as the cross came in. By the time, Uche scored, he could have passed the ball to an unmarked Obinna to tap it in
The Game kicks-off
After the 1st goal, the game settled into a pattern which was to continue for the rest of the 90 minutes. Argentina tended to dominate possession with Bolatti playing passes to wide players from a deep role. Nigeria players sat deep with both Obis looking to break play deep in midfield then laying off quick passes to wide players to initiate counter-attacks. Nigeria was narrow in the middle looking to be compact, denying Argentina the time and space to create chances. Argentina full-backs looked to overlap but both Nigerian wingers, Kalu Uche and Obinna Nsofor, were very alert to this threat and responded by tracking them whenever they entered the Nigerian defensive third.
For Nigeria’s 2nd goal, Taiwo began on one of his marauding runs from deep. Zabaleta stuck to Obinna while Gaitan was slow to respond to Taiwo’s run. This allowed Taiwo enough time to cross for Anichebe who drew a foul in the box from Fazio. Victor Obinna sent Nigeria 2 up from the resulting penalty kick (27’).
After this goal, the game once again settled into the usual Argentina knocking the ball around and Nigeria trying to hit them on the break. The job of breaking up play was made easier for Nigeria by the fact that Tino Costa and Belluschi failed to combine well due to poor understanding. The 3rd goal came from another break on the left with both Obinna and Taiwo combining on the left for Taiwo to cross to the far post to an unmarked Ike Uche to score his 2nd goal on the night.
Just before the end of the 1st half, Anichebe who had displayed all the proper P-attributes (Pace and Power) required of any proper counter-attacking lone striker picked up an injury and was replaced by Emmanuel Emenike who just completed a move from Karabükspor to Fenerbahçe.
2ND HALF – MORE OF THE SAME
At the start of the 2nd half, Dele Aiyenugba came on for Enyeama in goal while Ahmed Musa, Nigeria’s fastest winger and up there with Obinna as the country’s trickiest player replaced Kalu Uche at wide right. The 2nd half continued in similar fashion to the first. Emenike continued from where Anichebe had stopped showing himself to be as strong and probably faster than the man he replaced. He missed an opportunity to send Nigeria 4 goals up 2 minutes into the 2nd half as he was on the end of another counter attack. He did repay for this by scoring on the 53rd minute. Ahmed Musa stuck at the half-way line sent in a cross from deep which split Garay and Fazio (once again highlighting their lack of communication and understanding) to put Emenike though on goal and Emenike lobbed Gabbarini to send Nigeria 4 goals up.
Nigerian Midfield Understanding
Nigeria now seemed content to keep the scoreline as it was and began to show the advantage they had over their Argentine counterparts – Chemistry. Mikel Obi was frequently at the centre of lengthy combinations of short passing moves playing the ball around the Argentine pressing. As expected in any friendly, the numerous changes were made by both managers. Joel Obi whose drive has been a bright spot for Nigeria’s 4-2-3-1 lacks the stamina to keep up that kind of game for 90 minutes. He was one of the players pulled off as both managers looked to give other players chances. As Nigerian players retreated deeper into their half, Argentina upped the tempo. The understanding in the Nigerian back-line was impressive as teammates covered for each other to ensure the dribbling skills of the Argentine players did not result in any chance for Argentina. The game went on in this fashion and 5 minutes of extra time were added on. As both set of players looked to end the game, Argentina was awarded a bizarre penalty in the 97th minute which Bolatti converted.
– Joel Obi. Siasia has found the perfect role for the Inter player beside the more conservative Mikel Obi. They complement themselves with Joel providing the drive from deep and pressing in midfield while Mikel provides composure and prefers to direct play. This double pivot Siasia has developed will be key to Nigeria in the future. One issue though is Joel Obi’s ability to keep his fascinating energy-consuming style of play up past the 60th minute mark. As expected of any youngster, he gets tired and as well know, it won’t be dead and buried in most games by the 60th minute.
– Understanding and Chemistry. While Nigeria was impressive, the Argentine team clearly had quality but the lack of chemistry was Batista’s side’s Achilles heel. Simple passes weren’t completed and promising moves easily broke. Perotti was one bright spot as his buzz on another night could have created chances for La Albiceleste while Bolatti showed himself to be an average to good midfield director – a decent understudy to the very impressive Ever Banega.
– Counter-attacking threats. Nigeria did show their counter-attacking strengths and their ability to be disciplined on the night. The right kind of forwards are available with Ekhigo Ehiosun also capable of playing a role similar to Emenike and Anichebe. Ahmed Musa of VVV Venlo only has to work on his decision-making. The scoreline could have been as high as 7-1 on the night with many counter-attacks remaining unconverted. Only final decisions let the Super Eagles down and as these players develop, the future looks bright for Siasia’s boys