Nigeria 0-2 Serbia: Super Eagles frailties exposed by composed Serbs
Six competitive games without defeat. Two resounding victories against teams in FIFA's top 10. Nigeria had raised hopes and expectations among fans to a dangerous pinnacle. There needed to be a reminder. One that would awaken everyone from the trance. Thank you, Serbia.
London's Hive Stadium entertained two big guests in a FIFA-sanctioned preparation for the World Cup. Serbia came into the game determined to make amends for their most recent defeat to another World-Cup-bound African team, Morocco. Mladen Krstajic's men didn’t fail.
Nigeria was on a high. Perhaps too high to properly respect their opponents. A win against the Serbs wouldn't have impressed like the ones against Argentina and Poland, but you should always respect your opponent.
Serbia was more clinical and composed. Their professionalism was rewarded with two well-taken second-half goals from Aleksandar Mitrovic. It was enough to expose the frailties in Gernot Rohr’s Super Eagles side.
Deficient creativity, blunt attack
The Super Eagles struggled to create anything meaningful going forward. A few nimble touches from Victor Moses, a saved shot from the Chelsea man, and a blocked shot from Alex Iwobi were all the Nigerians could muster in the first half. At the other end, Francis Uzoho, Super Eagles goalie, was peppered with five shots. One beat him. Luckily the referee didn’t see the ball cross the line.
Nigeria was also creatively deficient against Poland but managed to win via a penalty. Against the Serbs, the luck came at the other end and wasn't enough.
No defence-splitting pass came from the central midfield manned by Ogenyi Onazi and Joel Obi. Iwobi and Moses offered little from the wings. The Super Eagles must rekindle their flair for hurting opponents from those key areas.
CSKA Moscow’s Ahmed Musa played as the lone striker. He received little service. His rare efforts wrere stifled by a resolute Serbian defence led by Branislav Ivanovic. Odion Ighalo didn’t improve the situation when he took Musa’s place in attack.
The Nigerians managed a pitiable three shots on target, none of which threatened to stain Serbia's clean sheet.
Tyronne Ebuehi was gifted his first start with the Super Eagles. The Holland-based defender was impressive when he replaced Shehu Abdullahi against Poland. Up against another European opponent, Ebuehi was lethargic, lacklustre, suspect, inefficient and culpable for both of Nigeria’s goals. On many occasions, he was caught out of position. He didn't know how to protect against the Serbian attack. Time and again he was exploited. The Serbs eventually found their way through. Rohr has unfinished work in defence. Especially, he must plug the obvious gap at right-back.
I recently said the Super Eagles could thrive without skipper Mikel John Obi. The Serbian team has proved me wrong.
The Super Eagles sorely missed their leader and conductor. The absence of other important players was also felt. Leon Balogun, Shehu Abdullahi and Kelechi Iheanacho, who all started the last friendly, were all missing due to injury. Their absence was evident.
In defence, the effective partnership between Balogun and William Troost-Ekong wasn’t there. Despite a decent shift by Chidozie Awaziem, losing by two goals exposes the Super Eagles' shallow squad depth. This is only Gernot Rohr’s second defeat since he took over as the Super Eagles coach. Failure is said to be the best teacher. The German certainly has plenty to learn.