Nigeria’s Super Eagles fell to a disappointing defeat thanks to the away goal rule following a 1-1 aggregate scoreline against regional rivals and neighbours Ghana, ensuring that the Super Eagles will not be part of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup in November.
In the immediate aftermath of the defeat, there was despair, violence and destruction from the Nigerian players and fans. Now, an inquest into the team’s performance in yesterday’s second leg draw against the Black Stars must be carried out.
Firstly, Super Eagles coach Augustine Eguavoen set up his team to play a 4-3-3 formation as opposed to the 4-4-2 he played in the first leg. This system allowed the Super Eagles to overwhelm their Ghanaian counterparts in the middle of the park by virtue of their sheer numerical advantage.
Ghana scored the first goal of the game after another howler from a Super Eagles goalkeeper as Francis Uzoho let in a shot from Thomas Party in the 11th minute. For the umpteenth time, an avoidable blunder had cost the team.
A small tweak that was admirable in the Nigerian set-up was the tendency of Brentford midfielder Frank Onyeka to run beyond his right winger Emmanuel Dennis. This created an overload for Ghana’s left-back Gideon Mensah to deal with, and the Bordeaux defender struggled to cope. This allowed Dennis and sometimes Ola Aina to get into very advanced positions in the first half.
The performance of the midfield, and Onyeka in particular, was a huge part of why the Super Eagles dominated the first 45 minutes of the game.
The Ghanaians were praying for the first half to come to an end due to the intense pressure they faced from the Super Eagles. Once the whistle for halftime went, the game was turned on its head.
Ghana’s German-born coach Otto Addo showed his tactical flexibility by making a triple change at half-time. He took off the ineffectual striker Jordan Ayew and replaced him with Elisha Owusu, a midfielder. He also took off Iddrisu Baba, a midfielder, for Andy Yiadom, a defender, and introduced Daniel Koffi Kyereh for Abdul Fatawu Issahaku.
Nigeria’s coach, on the other hand, failed to leave any tactical imprint on the team. His half-time change was enforced as the influential Onyeka had picked up an injury. Eguavoen chose to bring on versatile midfielder Abdullahi Shehu for the Super Eagles. This immediately took away the chaos caused by Onyeka’s presence and runs among Ghana’s backline. This was a problem because the midfield was not creating chances and adding Shehu to the mix only ensured that there was hardly any progression from the midfielders.
Ghana’s changes made sure their team gave up attacking numbers for solidity in a bid to grind out the result. They were, thus, able to successfully limit Nigeria’s attacks without much fuss throughout the second 45 minutes.
In a bid to win the game, Eguavoen took off the impressive Ademola Lookman for Moses Simon, who was far from impressive in the first leg in Kumasi. As the end of the game drew nearer, the Super Eagles gaffer grew panicky and threw a barrage of strikers onto the pitch without any clear plans. There was no cohesion or coordination in the Super Eagles attacking play throughout the second half of the game.
The game in Abuja highlighted the tactical ineptitude of Augustine Eguavoen, who has now failed to lead the Super Eagles to the World Cup on two different occasions.