Nigeria win big, but problems remain

Posted by Firdose Moonda

The scoreline suggests Nigeria have much to celebrate, but their 6-1 win over Tahiti was nothing more than routine. The curtain has been raised on their Confederations Cup campaign and now they can get on with the business of challenging for a place in the semifinals.

Nigeria were always expected to beat Oceania's champions. The harsh reality is that everyone in the group is expected to. Tahiti's fairy tale is heartwarming but that is not enough to ensure they won't be on the receiving end of many goals in this tournament. They know that and went into the event with the promise that if they scored even one goal, they would regard it as significant as a World Cup victory.

- Marcotti: Super Eagles beat plucky Tahiti

They got their one and they celebrated it beautifully. They had almost all the support of the 20,000-odd people in Belo Horizonte, who seem to have adopted the team as their own. And they only conceded six goals, one of which they scored themselves.

That is what Nigeria have to be concerned about. The Super Eagles won big, but they could have won bigger. Against Kenya and Namibia in their World Cup qualifiers in the two weeks before the Confederations Cup, they were wasteful in front of goal, where the absence of Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses and Kalu Uche is starting to show.

A positive is the form of Nnamdi Oduamadi and Nigeria will hope his upward curve continues as the tournament goes on. In addition to his hat trick, Oduamadi was the goal scorer against Kenya too. His partnership with Ahmed Musa will be important in the later stages of the tournament, especially as goals become more difficult to come by against tougher opposition.

Oduamadi has declared through a Twitter message that his "best is yet to come" and Nigeria will hope that is an accurate prediction, because the Tahiti match showed their accuracy is not as pinpoint as it should be.

Musa fired wide, Anthony Ujah and Sunday Mba had one-on-one opportunities to beat the goalkeeper and did not, Brown Ideye could not position himself on the end of crosses quickly enough and Elderson Echiejile fired over. It's possible that Nigeria became complacent and even disinterested as the match wore on, but it's not an attitude any team should have.

It could also simply be that the Nigerians were tired. They arrived in Brazil only 36 hours before their first match because of a pay dispute. They did not manage a training session beforehand and were understandably a little wobbly. The financial issue has reportedly not been sorted out yet and there's every chance that will continue to affect Nigeria's mindset as the competition develops.

What's more immediately important is that they recover sufficiently for what could be a decisive clash against Uruguay on Thursday. With only two days between matches, training time will not be in abundance.

Stephen Keshi is chiefly concerned with fitness and ended the encounter grateful there were no further niggles. The Big Boss was "just happy there are no major problems concerning injuries," in the aftermath, but he has also pleaded with his men to take their chances in front of goal.

If the tournament plays out as expected and Nigeria fail to beat Spain, as Uruguay did, then Thursday's match between Nigeria and Uruguay is effectively a quarterfinal.

Uruguay's strike force cannot be properly assessed so far because they barely saw the ball against Spain, and Nigeria will want to keep them similarly frustrated. Whether their midfield and defence can do that will depend heavily on the likes of John Obi Mikel, who will have to play a commanding role if Nigeria are to ensure a place among the last four.

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