SUPER EAGLES

Mexico defeat illustrates benefit of gradual change for Peseiro's Nigeria project

The Peseiro era kicked off on Sunday morning with a 2-1 friendly defeat at the hands of Mexico at the AT&T Stadium in Texas.

Jose Peseiro

In truth, considering that the Portuguese manager had probably enjoyed the benefit of fewer than three training sessions with his new charges, precious little could realistically have been expected. It takes a while for a new coach to imprint even in the kindest of circumstances, as Peseiro learnt over the course of the opening half.

In the first period, it was El Tri who made all of the running, at times monopolising the ball to a distinctly unfriendly degree and making an already leggy Super Eagles team chase it. And chase they did, albeit to minimal effect: Nigeria did not manage a single shot on the Mexico goal in that first half.

Some of that was to do with what Gerardo Martino’s side were doing in possession. But really, the main culprit was probably Peseiro’s attempt to put a stamp down too quickly. While a versatile selection suggested a number of different possibilities, it was in a 3-5-2 shape that the Super Eagles began the game, and it was in that shape that they proceeded to look utterly bereft.

The line of defence simply did not function in the manner that it should have, as multiple individual components seemed incapable of grasping their roles. On the right, Moses Simon, deployed as a right wing-back, failed to take up the correct positions out of possession, sparking a chain reaction of indecision all across the back that, oddly enough, seemed to most affect captain William Troost-Ekong who, as the centre-piece of the defence, should have been marshalling it all.

Mexico also found a lot of joy on the outside of the Nigeria midfield, pulling Joe Aribo and Alex Iwobi out to the wide areas in order to better access the middle of the pitch, as well as the far side.

Peseiro is, of course, no stranger to using a defensive line of five, as he did likewise while in charge of Venezuela. However, it was obvious here that, without devoting time on the training ground to learn the system, he was simply setting up this crop of players, jetlagged and fatigued as they were following a gruelling club season and long travel, to fail.

By reverting to a more familiar 4-4-2 shape at half-time, Nigeria began to exert a measure of control on proceedings and gained a foothold in the game. “I am happy with the character of the team,” Peseiro said, but really the turnaround owed a little more to stripping things back a little bit and returning to the basics, as it were.

It is part of the challenge that will define his tenure in charge of the Super Eagles. The ability to recognise what isn’t working, the humility to row back and re-examine his ideology in light of the resources available to him, and the patience to stagger his indoctrination of the team in order to get his message across in the most optimal fashion. These are the variables that could well demarcate between ultimate success and catastrophic failure.

As for the actual events on the pitch, they held little didactic potential. So extenuating were the physical circumstances of a number of the players, that it might as well have been a warm-down. As such, it is difficult to be too hard on individual performances.

However, it cannot have been lost on Peseiro how poor captain Ekong looked on the night, even with the benefit of a relatively light club schedule. It seems, increasingly, that there is a decision to be made about the Watford man, as to whether his continued place in the starting lineup is justified. In raising the level of a team, weaknesses are accentuated, and so any realistic attempt to forge a team capable of success will have to address said points of weakness.

That is assuming, of course, that Peseiro’s talk is more than just that. Nigerians have had more than their fair share of bluffers down the years, and his stated ambition was met with snickers and shrugs. Walk before you run, the saying goes.

In Texas, Peseiro’s Super Eagles project broke into a crawl.

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