As Coach Gernot Rohr’s Super Eagles prepare to face Samba boys in an international friendly in Singapore on 13 October, 2019, MUMINI ALAO recalls his impressions of the first senior encounter between the two countries in Abuja in 2003….
I HAVE read quite a number of reactions to the Super Eagles 3-0 thrashing by Brazil in last week’s (June 2003) “Match of the Century” in Abuja. It is very rare to find Nigerian soccer fans and commentators agreeing quickly on a subject, but the Brazil game provided one of those rarities.
The verdict is near unanimous: Samba boys were a class apart and Nigeria still has a lot to learn.
That verdict had always been true even before the match was played. Last week, I said in my article which was culled from Complete Football that our famous Atlanta ’96 victory notwithstanding, Samba boys would come to Abuja as clear favourites to beat a Super Eagles team that was just rebuilding. Although I wish the Eagles had managed at least a goal to make the score more respectable, I was not in the least surprised by the outcome.
However, what surprised me was how tamely the Eagles surrendered to the world champions. Playing before their own fans, I had expected the Eagles to put up a spirited fight and make the Brazilians sweat for their victory. Coach Carlos Parreira said at the post-match press conference that the Eagles indeed gave them (Brazil) a hell of a fight and that the 3-0 result wasn’t a true reflection of the contest. I say thank you Parreira for your words of encouragement and for trying to lift the spirit of our boys. But the FACT is that the Eagles were thoroughly out-played, out-thought, out-paced and out-scored. Contrary to Parreira’s diplomatese, I think the 3-0 result was a TRUE REFLECTION of the match proceedings. In fact the goals could have been more.
Now, there is no intention here to run the Eagles aground on account of the bashing by Brazil. Rather, my objective is to get Coach Christian Chukwu to face the reality that his boys played a terrible game, they were taught a bitter lesson and they must take those lessons to heart and reflect them in their next games.
The first lesson the Samba boys taught the Eagles is to PLAY IT SIMPLE. While the Nigerian players led by captain Austin Okocha were showing off their individual skills on the ball especially in the early parts of the game, the Brazilians who ironically are traditionally more skillful, simply settled in for a team display, moving the ball smoothly and swiftly around, running into space and making themselves available to receive the ball from their colleagues, and immediately releasing the ball to the next man as soon as it arrived. These are some of the most elementary things in football and how well it worked for the visitors. By the time the Eagles had exhausted themselves in the first half hour with some initial flashes, the well-oiled Brazilian team machine simply took over and rolled unstoppably to a comfortable victory.
The Brazilians were a joy to watch, but the Eagles had made it doubly easy for them by standing and looking (standon-look as differentiated from siddon-look) even while the ball was rolling by. Lesson one.
Lesson two from the Samba boys was on how to take full advantage of COUNTER ATTACKS. In modern football where most teams have perfected the art of organising a closely-knit back-line and where defenders close down on the opposing forwards even before the ball had arrived, most goals today are scored from counter-attacks which catch the defenders on the back-foot and deny them the luxury of organising themselves. These counters are launched at top speed and back-tracking defenders would arrive only on time to help their goalkeeper retrieve the ball from inside the net!
I took special notice during the 2002 World Cup and I can declare that more than half the goals scored in Korea/Japan resulted from counter-attacks. In the Nigeria-Brazil game, two of their three goals arrived from that route.
By contrast, the Eagles were slow and tentative the few times they had an opportunity to counter, thus allowing the Brazilians to quickly fall back and regroup. Lethargic Nwankwo Kanu was the biggest culprit in this regard and his overall performance partly explains why he’s not been able to secure a regular shirt in a pacy Arsenal side notable for fast breaks which yield most of their goals. Brazil’s coach, Parreira, also made of a point of the Eagles shoddy handling of counter-attacking opportunities during the post-match conference and I hope Christian Chukwu was listening.
Lesson three from the world champions was about PRECISION SHOOTING. My definition of precision shooting is “shooting with an INTENT TO SCORE” as opposed to “shooting with a HOPE TO SCORE.” While Brazil were “guilty” of the first charge, the Eagles were guilty of the second.
Incidentally, the Super Eagles have had this weakness for long, even dating back to the early days of Rashidi Yekini who would go for a shot at goal and hit the goalkeeper when a chip or a lob would have produced a better result.
Last week, that weakness came back to haunt the Eagles again as the few chances they had were surrendered to the Brazilian goalkeeper, Dida, to make comfortable saves. Rather than testing the AC Milan boy with some intelligent balls, the Nigerian forwards were content with shooting the ball on target and ‘HOPING’ the keeper would make a mistake. Dida never did.
To digress a little, I watched the Under-23 Dream Team III in their Olympic qualifier against Namibia last Saturday and I observed that the difference between “intent to score” and “hoping to score’ was what also robbed them of a bigger win. Several times the strikers simply needed to pick a spot beyond the Namibian goalkeeper’s reach to ensure an “intent” to score, but they repeatedly went for power-shooting, “hoping” the ball would force its way through. It did, only once.
A summary then of the lessons Samba boys taught the Super Eagles last week in Abuja.
ONE: Play it simple. Control the ball, pass to your mate, run into space, receive the ball and pass it again. Keep moving. Be purposeful. Go for goal, don’t toy around the midfield. Don’t play to the gallery.
TWO: Exploit your counter-attacks. Move the ball quickly up-field and at great speed. Don’t hold on to the ball. Don’t allow your opponents to reorganise their defence before you finish your move. Never pass backward during a counter.
THREE: Be precise in front of goal. Know when to shoot, curve the ball, chip or lob. Pick your angle with intent to avoid the goalkeeper—the goalpost is wide enough. Don’t bank on the ‘keeper making a mistake. Instead, make it impossible for him to reach the ball.
I am the first to admit that the three lessons listed above are some of the most elementary aspects of modern football. The Eagles surely didn’t need Samba boys to come and teach them these basics, but that was what happened last week in Abuja.
And if you don’t learn your lessons against the champions of the world, then you will never learn!
This article was originally published in Complete Sports on 16 June, 2003. 16 years on, I wait to see if Gernot Rohr’s young Super Eagles set of 2019 will demonstrate a grasp of the Samba lessons taught to their predecessors. – Mumini Alao.