After delivering one of the better tactical performances at the 2021 AFCON, the Super Eagles went into the clash with Sudan with all eyes on them.
On paper this looked a less exciting clash than the Egypt game; with the North African side not posing enough star power on paper.The question was how Nigeria would deal with Sudan considering other lesser profile countries at the competition proved stubborn to beat. This game all but confirmed what we believe - the Super Eagles are contenders; in this analysis, we take a look at how Nigeria faced Sudan on the day.
Nigeria lined up in the 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 system preferred by coach Augustine Eguavoen, the former Nigeria player stuck to the principles of not changing a winning team - Maduke Okoye in goal; Ola Aina, Troost Ekong, Omeruo and Sanusi made up the back four, Joe Aribo and Ndidi formed the base pivot in midfield, Moses Simon and Samuel Chukwueze flanked Kelechi Iheanacho and Taiwo Awoniyi up top.
Sudan used a 4-2-3-1 which shifted to a 4-4-2 deep block; Achrine in goal, Elfadni, Nemer, Karshoum and Mohamedein completed the back four. Sudan used a midfield pivot of Rashed and Khedr in the middle of the park with Omer, Hamed and Abas Omer a three-man attack behind Mo Eisa.
What the Eagles did with more possession
According to Opta, Nigeria had 43.1% possession against Egypt. Against Sudan, the Eagles had 58.2% possession. This was due to how deep and compact Sudan were throughout the game - they gave them all the possession and tried to hit them on the counter
Looking at the passmaps from both games via Opta Analyst, Nigeria played significantly more passes outside Sudan’s penalty area than they did against Egypt (529 to 332). Why is that?
Nigeria completed 529 passes in the game vs Sudan (1st image) compared to 332 against Egypt (2nd image).
Sudan had a very good block setup against Nigeria - two banks of 4 that engaged the wingers anytime the ball got to them. This forced a few rushed decisions and turnovers from the Eagles’ wide men during the game.
Sudan also did a good job of denying access in between their defence and midfield line, with Ndidi often the single-pivot when Nigeria attacked, it made it hard to access the attacking players, thus he often recycled the ball to defence.
Sanusi was the player Sudan “forced” the ball into by doubling up on Simon on the left, forcing the fullback to play the ball more - Sanusi had 85 passes versus Sudan compared to just 30 against Egypt.
Eagles need space to thrive
One of the main reasons Nigeria played the ball at the back often against Sudan was that the movement and spacing from the first game was sometimes missing. Players didn't move around waiting for the ball, Sudan also did a brilliant job of marking attacking players anytime they stepped into midfield.
Coach Eguavoen was often seen asking Chukwueze to provide options down the right, and he barked at Iheanacho for not taking advantage of the space behind the Sudan midfield when they stepped up.
Far too often in this game, Aribo, Awoniyi and Iheanacho were a separate unit up to with little to no service to. A combination of lack of movement and Sudan’s brilliant tactics in midfield was the reason why Nigeria played backwards 99% of the time.
Nigeria vs Sudan was a glimpse into how the Eagles would fare against opposition who accepted their fate as underdogs and decided to use it to their advantage. Sudan were strong, compact and denied Nigeria from playing into the spaces they had joy against Egypt.
Nigeria's counter-press served them very well because they were able to quickly take the ball off Sudan and transition into space. The Eagles forced 21 turnovers against Egypt and 12 turnovers against Sudan according to Whoscored.
My concern with Nigeria is how lopsided they are in attack, despite Chukwueze being involved in the goals against Sudan, the Eagles continued to focus their attacks down the left. 47% of their attacks were initiated down the left despite Simon facing more problems than he did against Egypt.
Stats from Opta and Whoscored, dashboard screenshots from Opta Analyst, analysis provided by AfroStat.