Though the Super Eagles played far better in the second half it was not enough to paper over a sloppy first half as Nigeria fell to a 2-1 defeat against England at Wembley Stadium Saturday.
Both teams started the game with their best sides based on availability; Wilfred Ndidi was the only certain starter for Nigeria to miss out due to injury concerns.
Chelsea captain Gary Cahill scored the Three Lions’ first goal with a towering header from a corner kick in the seventh minute to set the ball rolling for England as they took control of the match, spraying passes around with confidence, with the Eagles struggling to gain a footing in the game even with captain Mikel Obi being the most experienced player on the pitch.
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Both Joel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi failed to plug gaping holes in Nigeria’s midfield.
Onazi was especially to blame as his general sluggish play cost the Eagles dear when yet another misplaced pass led to England’s second goal rifled in by captain Harry Kane in the 39th minute.
There were loud cheers for the Nigerian team whenever they showed any intention of having a go at their hosts; the 70,000 at Wembley certainly included a very large Nigerian contingent who directed their ire at Dele Alli.
Alex Iwobi popped up early in the second-half to stroke the ball home after Odion Ighalo’s effort rebounded off the post.
Iwobi’s 47th-minute goal was the first for Nigeria against England in three internationals. The Eagles had earlier lost 1-0 in 1994 at the Old Wembley before forcing the three Lions to a 0-0 draw at the 2002 World Cup.
Iwobi’s goal was evidence of a much improved second-half performance due to tactical reshuffling and personnel change as Rohr showed his ability to read a game and make adjustments.
The formation change from a 4-2-3-1 to a 3-5-2 gave the Eagles a foothold in the game and ensured Iwobi influenced proceedings from a more central position.
The second half was much more of a contest with the Eagles showing desire and effort that was non-existent in the first half. It will give Eagles fans hope that despite the defeat, the team has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with more illustrious opponents in the shape of Croatia and Argentina.
The loss was the latest in a series of uninspiring results in pre-World Cup friendlies this year. The loss to England follows a drab 1-1 draw against the Congo DR on Monday and a 2-0 loss to Serbia a couple of months ago.
Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr, however, needs to come up with a system to compensate for the team’s lack of pace and invention in the middle of the park. Nigeria’s friendly against the Czech Republic on Wednesday will present another opportunity to come up with new solutions to help the Eagles soar in Russia.