FIFA World Cup qualifying Super Eagles must find answers for scoring issues

FIFA World Cup qualifying Super Eagles must find answers for scoring issues

Goalkeeping has been the major focus of headlines for Nigeria in recent matches, but the Super Eagles showed in the 1-1 draw with Lesotho on Thursday that they still need to find a way to maximise the output of what appears to be a fearsome glut of attacking talent.

Issues were also evident at the other end of the pitch.

Stand-in captain Kenneth Omeruo said before the game that Nigeria had learned from their previous FIFA World Cup qualification failure, and they would show the benefit in this campaign; but that did not prove to be the case as they dropped two points against a team ranked 46 places below them in the FIFA rankings.

Here are our takeouts from Nigeria's disappointing World Cup qualifying draw with Lesotho at Godswill Akpabio Stadium in Uyo.

No firepower without Victor Osimhen

The absence of a player of Victor Osimhen's quality is going to be a problem for any team. The forward has scored five goals in the past five games for Nigeria, but his direct running, strength, hold-up play, and willingness to take shots from range also create opportunities for teammates.

On Thursday, the Super Eagles created chance after chance, but the quartet of Taiwo Awoniyi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Victor Boniface and Ademola Lookman could not put them away, including a sitter put on a plate by Boniface that Awoniyi saw dribble marginally wide. They hit the woodwork, saw shots saved, and were the subject of last-ditch blocks and well-timed tackles in failing to add to Semi Ajayi's goal.

Boniface tried one too many fancy tricks when he should have shot at goal, and Lookman had Nigeria coach Jose Peseiro tearing his hair out as he attempted to walk his way into goal when an easy pass was available for a tap in. The Atalanta man also wasted numerous set-pieces.

This failing, combined with the team's inability to shut out the opposition, saw Nigeria's World Cup qualification ambitions starting on the shakiest of notes.

Soft goals becoming a habit

Nigeria have conceded a goal in six of their past eight games, but here is the troubling part: More than half of those goals have been very soft. They have also conceded against teams that usually should have no business scoring against the Super Eagles; that includes Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and, now, Lesotho.

Calvin Bassey went walkabout as Lesotho's Motlomelo Mkhwanazi rose highest to head past Francis Uzoho on Thursday, and previously 10-man Mozambique had found a way to get past the Eagles defence.

A natural extrapolation of their recent form is that Nigeria will concede in more games than not. Which takes us back to the first point above: If they are going to concede goals, the frontline has to do a better job of scoring; equals will not do it.

Moses Simon is Nigeria's best attacking threat

It is something of a head scratcher as to why Peseiro did not start Moses Simon on Thursday.

The Nantes forward is one of the most-maligned Super Eagles players, dating back to Gernot Rohr's time as coach, but he remains one of the team's most attacking threats and among the best defensive resources tracking back.

Simon has scored in two of Nigeria's past eight games, and contributed assists in another three. He is also one of the better set-piece takers in the team.

He started on the bench on Thursday, but did more than almost anybody else in the 31 minutes he was on the field.

The result could well have been different had his two perfect deliveries to the far post been read properly by teammates.

Set-pieces need work

There are couple of things to unpack regarding Nigeria's set-pieces.

First, Lookman needs to stay away from them. His deliveries against Lesotho were, to put it mildly, atrocious. Until he can show improvement, there really is no point. Simon and Iheanacho are Nigeria's best set-piece takers.

Secondly, the team needs to work on its connections and understanding at set-pieces. Simon (twice) and then Iheanacho delivered the most exquisite of balls to the back post, needing just a touch to score a goal; three times, Super Eagles players arrived late, even after Simon and Iheanacho had instructed and signaled to their teammates in the box to head for, and attack, the back stick.

At least no goalkeeping errors

Nigeria goalkeeper Uzoho needed to produce an error-free game after the recent criticism he has endured; for his confidence, if nothing else. What a relief for him that he did.

He started with good footwork, passing the ball out of defence, and then made two great stops that seemed to boost his confidence.

Now he will hope to get through the coming game against Zimbabwe without errors.

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