The largely home-based squad put in an impressive showing against Atleti, but there’s still a lot to worry about moving forward, writes Kunle Fayiga.
It might have been just a friendly game that featured players on the fringes of the squad, but with Atletico Madrid fielding names like Jan Oblak, Juanfran, Thomas Partey, Angel Correa, Kevin Gameiro and Fernando Torres, things were always going to be difficult for the Super Eagles select at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium.
Although the Rojiblancos ran out 3-2 victors, Salisu Yusuf’s men – predominantly made up of Nigeria Professional Football League players – impressed on the night.
This game was the perfect platform for some of the country’s top-flight stars to show their worth, and a few names rose to the occasion. The top scorer for current NPFL leaders Lobi Stars, Samad Kadiri, was one of the bright sparks in attack, with his rampaging runs causing the Atleti backline all sorts of problems.
Destiny Ashadi came on for the ineffectual Ibrahim Alhassan, and even though the Katsina United wideman missed a glorious chance to put the ball in the back of the net, he showed glimpses of the quality that sees him sit top of the current NPFL assists chart.
Plateau United’s Tosin Omoleye was another NPFL player who had a good game, coming off the bench and laying the ball on the path of Usman Mohammed – who scored what was the goal of the night, making a meal of the Atletico defence before putting the ball past Axel Werner.
However, the biggest undoing of the Nigerian frontline was that they were too wasteful.
They could have had more goals in the back of the net, but poor technique and finishing – something that is a recurring theme in the NPFL and a reason for a low turnout of goals on matchdays – was evident in this game.
The Super Eagles defence was terrible on the night too. They afforded Diego Simeone’s men much space, as was evidenced in the build-up to Angel Correa and Fernando Torres’ goals. The Nigerian backline might have been poor, but Enugu Rangers number one Olufemi Thomas was fantastic in Uyo, making a number of excellent saves.
His most noteworthy stop was when using his lower body to keep out a close-range effort from Vitolo. It was reminiscent of Manchester United goalkeeper and former Atleti man David de Gea.
The other lapses from the home-based players cannot be ignored and was evidence that the technical aspect of the Nigeria Professional Football League also needs to improve. The same kind of errors that were seen against Atleti are the things that have cost NPFL sides dearly in continental competition.
The NPFL is also known to be physical in nature, but the naivety and rawness of some of the league’s defenders were evident against Atleti.
Facing a fluent attacking side was always going to leave the backline exposed, and that’s what happened in Uyo.
The same could be said during the Super Eagles’ outing at the 2018 African Nations Championship in Morocco, where the West Africans were handed a lesson by Morocco in the final.
There’s hope, however, that the ongoing NPFL-La Liga partnership can help expose the nation’s top sides to teams beyond Africa’s shores and help them learn lessons from the diversity of the world game.
Certainly, while the Eagles deserve credit for their application against Atleti, the defeat only demonstrated that there’s certainly room for improvement for the nation’s top home-based star.
Kunle Fayiga is a correspondent with Goal