Final scores ended Croatia 2 Nigeria 0. I can’t say exactly what went wrong. Admittedly, we played against a very very good side but we weren’t too bad either, if you watch the game again without any pressure. The Croatians are experienced and good too. They know what to do at each point of the game. They have a team, not just a bunch of players. So I’m not surprised that they won. I’m just shocked that we lost like that.
Everything that could go wrong went wrong in the game. The first goal came off an own-goal which was unfortunate because he (Oghenekaro Etebo) wanted to clear the ball but it bounced off his leg and went in. The Croatian headed the ball wrongly and it was going off target but the deflection took it in. That could happen to anybody so you cannot really blame him for it. The second goal too was from a mistake, an unnecessary mistake. At this level such errors will be punished by the referee. You cannot grab a player like that and not pay for it. So, basically we lost to our naivety against a more experienced side who exploited our own inexperience.
We did not attack as much as we are capable of. We did not create any notable chance after they scored their goal. It was as if we were asking them to keep coming at us while not putting up any attack of our own. I’m of the
Against Iceland we have to win. No too ways about it. A hard job just became a little bit more difficult. Iceland have shown that they could be even more difficult than Croatia. They play very compact football. So very organized that they hardly leave any space for you to operate. We saw how they froze Argentina out and made life difficult for Lionel Messi. If they did that to Messi, you wonder what they can do to us. Yet we have to get a good result against them.
If I was on the coaching crew of the Eagles, the first thing I will say to the players is to calm down. The Croatian game is gone, we cannot help it again except to pick lessons from the game going forward. Then they should psych the players up that Iceland may be difficult but they are very beatable. Then the coach should look for a formation that plays to the strength of the players. We need to play with pace and intelligence, going through the flanks if the middle is too choked. We cannot afford to be one-dimensional and the players must learn to play with urgency. Starting slowly is costing us a lot.
Going into the game against Iceland, there are very many valuable lessons to learn from the 2-0 loss to Croatia. One is self-belief. You are as good as you think you are. You need to believe in yourself and in your ability to bend backwards and do the unexpected. Secondly, they must learn to express themselves better on the ball. I saw a lot of restricted movement sideways and backwards. They should learn to take the game to the opposition. If they wont come to you then you need to take the fight to them. Thirdly, they should not panic or put themselves under unnecessary pressure even when the goals are not coming yet. When you give room for panic, then you make mistakes which could be fatal.
Finally, the fans both in the stadium and at home should not give up on the team. We should support them. Iceland must fall. We must progress. We can make it happen. Up Nigeria!
Mutiu Adepoju, former Super Eagles midfielder, is currently the La Liga Ambassador in Nigeria