3 things we learned as Nigeria’s U-23 side powered past Sweden into the quarter finals

By Jude Egbas

Stanley Amuzie’s pin-point cross in the 39th minute found the bean-pole Sadiq Umar, who duly obliged, nodding home Nigeria’s only goal of the game in the football event of the Rio Olympics, on Sunday.

Such was Nigeria’s dominance–bossing possession for most of the encounter–the final score-line flattered the Swedes.

Here are 3 things to recall as Nigeria’s U-23 men’s football team sealed its place in the quarter final….

Power play pays

In spite of their pre-tournament jet lag woes, the Nigerians were the fitter team all game. They ran their socks off, quickly closing down spaces in the middle of the park and bullying their prim and proper opponents off the ball time and again. It was a tactic that worked, making the Swedes look harried as the clock ticked. By the end of the first period, the Swedes had run out of gas from having to deal with a more physical and domineering Nigerian side.

This tactic may not pan out to perfection should Nigeria encounter an equally physical opponent in the rest of the tournament, but on the night, it was good enough to earn the West Africans 3 points.

Mikel’s midfield, Sadiq’s soiree

John Obi Mikel often looks a different proposition from the apparition that turns out for Chelsea, once in the green of Nigeria. That was the case again on the night, with the Chelsea midfielder surging forward to support the attack, acting as foil for his midfield partners and dictating play from the base of midfield. He seemed everywhere, popping up occasionally to pounce on loose balls like one searing effort that was desperately parried by the Swedish goalie.

In the attack, Sadiq Umar continued to prove what a handful he could be–chasing down lost causes, making runs in and out of the box and looking to test the keeper. When his goal arrived, it was just reward for a night of hardwork until he made way for Aminu Umar late on. I tweeted the following about Sadiq while the encounter was on: Sadiq Umar is quick off the block, for a man his height. Bean-pole, gangling lot with plenty of pace to burn.

Apt.

Tactical discipline

The Nigerians were tactically aware on the night, a far cry from their first game against Japan when they shipped in as many as they banged.

Granted, the 2nd goal wouldn’t arrive even as Ezekiel and Etebo teased and tested, this was a disciplined performance from the men in green. When they lost the ball, they quickly regrouped at the rear, sending Etebo and Sadiq in flight. They kept the ball well when they needed to, with flashes of brilliance now and again. The negative from their play must be the inability to kill the game off with chance after chance begging to be converted.

At the rear, Ekong organized the defence with grace, allowing Sincere, Amuzie, Daniel and Shehu feed off his composure. It was not for nothing that Ekong emerged man of the match on most pundits’ score-card.

The endeavor, spirit and tactical awareness were evident from Siasia’s boys all game. Attributes that will serve them well in subsequent encounters.

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Jude Egbas is on Twitter as @egbas

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