If Nigeria should stand any chance of making it to the knockout round of the ongoing FIFA World Cup after the highly disappointing, tepid draw with Iranians, we must beat Bosnia-Herzegovina come Saturday. Beating a star-studded Argentine side is an uphill task. With all due respect, holding them to a draw is the best we can hope for. Bosnia-Herzegovina represents our best chance of making it through, and if there should be any possibility of that happening, head coach Stephen Keshi must look into these suggestions.
1. Bring the ball down and utilize the counter-attack: Our greatest undoing in the match with the Iranians on Monday was the excessive use of aimless long balls. It is my opinion that Nigeria would have comfortably won that match if only they kept the ball on the ground and knocked it around a bit. With all due respect, Iran is one of the weakest – if not the weakest – teams in this tournament. In the first 10-15 minutes of the game, they showed us that they had a lot of deficiencies in their game plan, which Nigeria, unfortunately, failed to capitalize on. Nigeria's counterattack in the match was OK, fast and sharp, but it lacked someone that will make proper use of them. Keshi, in the match with Bosnia, should tell his boys to use the long pass at a minimum (we don’t have tall players to contest for and win balls in the air), keep the ball on the ground, pass it around to players in space, look for gaps in their defence and exploit them. When they attack, dispossess them and hit them on the counter.
2. Play with your best: This is the World Cup and there is no need to reserve or rest players. Play with the best you have. Personal problems with players can always be settled after the match. Disagreements should never be brought into the field of play. Keshi, as the chief coach, knows his players, their capabilities and the positions where they are best fit more than anyone else. He must not allow anybody dictate to him who he should play and who he shouldn't. If he’s having problems with any of his players, it should be settled behind the scenes. No-one will shoulder the blame and responsibilities of failure other than the chief coach himself, not the players or anybody in the football association.
3. Make the midfield more compact: Giving the ball away unnecessarily and misplacing passes has been the bane of the Nigerian national team in the run-up to the World Cup and in the match with Iran. The midfield is the heartbeat of the team and it is where the majority of the action takes place. Give the ball away in the midfield and it could be the beginning of the end for the Super Eagles’ adventure in Brazil.
4. Discipline the full-backs: A full-back in modern football (or in most teams) has two basic roles: blocking attacks through the flanks and overlapping. Against more dangerous teams with faster wingers, if you overlap and fail to return in time to your position, you will create gaps in the defence which goal-hungry forwards will not fail to exploit.
5. Work on the set pieces: The present Nigerian team provides no threat whatsoever from set pieces. Free kicks and corner kicks are wasted on several occasions. There should be a synergy between the designated set piece takers and their targets. Defending opposition set pieces should also be worked on.
6. Stifle and frustrate the attack: Finally, make sure that the likes of Eden Dzeko and Hajrovic don’t see much of the ball. Cage them and don’t give them any space to run into or any opening from where they can unleash dangerous shots.
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