New coach, same issues: Nigeria need to find solutions before Ecuador clash

Life as Nigeria coach got off to a less than auspicious start for Jose Peseiro, as his new wards fell to a 2-1 defeat against Mexico in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, and he'll need a quick solution if he's to avoid a 0-2 start to his tenure, against Ecuador on Thursday.

It is familiar territory for the Super Eagles, who now slip into a two-game losing skid against El Tri, after four previous draws between the sides.

Santiago Gimenez bundled home after 13 minutes, after Francis Uzoho had made a fine save, to give the Mexicans the lead. UEFA Europa Conference League top scorer Cyriel Dessers marked his return from the international wilderness by powering a header for the equalizer, but Nigeria stand-in captain William Troost-Ekong shanked in an own goal within minutes of Dessers' goal to hand the victory to Mexico.

Peseiro went into the game hamstrung. His appointment was only confirmed after the squad list for the game had been put together, so the Portuguese had to deal with the absence of the bulk of the team's starters.

Lead striker Victor Osimhen asked to be excused and was not even named from the get go. And then a spate of illness, injuries, and visa troubles ruled out the likes of skipper Ahmed Musa, goalkeeper Maduka Okoye, defenders Zaidu Sanusi and Abdullahi Shehu, midfielders Oghenekaro Etebo, Azubuike Okechukwu, Alhassan Yusuf and Samson Tijani, and forwards Samuel Chukwueze and Sadiq Umar.

Peseiro was left scraping the bottom of the barrel as sought to make his mark early, his entire bench composed of entirely players from the Nigeria domestic league. And with only two training sessions under the new coach, the Super Eagles were left playing playing catch-up from the get-go.

Depleted and jetlagged, they weathered an early, high pressing storm from their hosts, who were backed by the vocal urgings of the overwhelming majority of a 52,000-strong crowd at the AT&T Stadium.

Nigeria have not won a game since their final group match of the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, and they looked exactly like a side shorn of confidence throughout the first half.

Disjointed, unable to put more than a handful of passes together, and unable to deal with the sharp movement and intricate passing of the Mexicans, the Super Eagles looked a far cry from super.

Peseiro was honest enough to admit it, telling ESPN: "We cannot hide it, we played a very bad first half. We had five players in defence, and they had two players playing forward and the two players controlled the five. They were pressing and we did not solve it. We cannot have that."

That control spawned the error that led to the first goal. A cross into the box caught the Nigeria defence static, allowing Gimenez not only to hit the shot, but to get to the rebound ahead of Peseiro's back five.

It was another error that led to the second, an own goal. The defence was all over the place when the cross came in, forcing an unbalanced Troost-Ekong to shin spectacularly past his own goalkeeper.

These errors are becoming a familiar thread in Nigeria's defence, going all the way back to Gernot Rohr's tenure. A mix up between Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun allowed the Central African Republic to score and claim a famously historic victory in Lagos. That was the result that essentially sealed Rohr's fate as Nigeria coach.

Tunisia scored at the AFCON from a pile-up of defensive brain freezes, and Ghana did the same in Abuja, both under Augustine Eguavoen, also leading to his sacking, and Nigeria's failure to qualify for the World Cup.

If Peseiro is to see out at least the first phase of his contract, those defensive mishaps will have to be solved. Still, the coach pushed back against suggestions that he should make personnel changes.

He said: "If a player makes a mistake, I cannot just drop him, because it damages his confidence. Instead, as a coach, I take responsibility because I selected him."

However, he did give a warning: "But if the mistake continues to happen, then we have to see."

Given the result was more respectable than the 4-0 hammering the Nigerians took last year, Peseiro was somewhat heartened by the commitment he saw from the majority of his team.

"You have to be practical and face the challenges when they come your way," Peseiro said. "We would have loved to have everyone here and see how well they have put the World Cup miss behind them and forged on.

"But what we have is what we have. I have chosen to be positive and I have resolved to work hard to use the resources available to make Nigeria great again.

"I am happy we have such an excellent pool of players who are committed and ready to give their all every time. This situation was not something they created; challenges do turn up that way.

"We have a number of players who have been told to rise up to the occasion. Every player who gets the chance to wear the Nigeria jersey should be proud of that opportunity and give their all."

Little will change in terms of the line-up as Eagles head for New Jersey, but the defensive organization will have to be much improved, as the team's performance did in the second half, where they matched Mexico, piled their own dose of pressure, and found reward in Dessers' powerful header.

Peseiro was left encouraged: "What I was happy about the most was the character, the performance in the second half. We controlled the game and we scored."

That change was helped in part by Peseiro doing something that Rohr had been criticised for not doing enough of towards the end of his tenure: A willingness to make in-game tactical changes.

With his back three not working, he switched to a back four: "We decided that if the two was controlling the three, then we have to make it a four and have more control in midfield.

"And it helped us take control of the game because as a coach, my philosophy is that I like control, to control the game."

Even more heartening for Peseiro would have been the outstanding performances of some of his starters. Calvin Bassey was the undisputed star of the show, magical at left wing back and left back, from where he provided a flurry of well-timed crosses, including the one buried by Dessers.

Alex Iwobi was a buzzing creative spark, especially after dropping deeper and allowing another standout, Joseph Aribo, to push up front in the second half. Dessers' movement, positioning, and goal, would have given the coach plenty to chew on, and Osimhen the motivation to step up his game when he returns.

But the unheralded star of the show on the Nigerian side would have to be Uzoho, who came in on the back of making the goalkeeping error that saw them exit World Cup contention. He proceeded to make at least three stupendous saves to deny Mexico.

There is plenty of work for Peseiro to do as he prepares his wards for the second friendly against Ecuador, and then the two AFCON qualifying duels with Sierra Leone and Mauritius in Abuja and St. Pierre on June 9 and June 13 respectively.

How he solves these recurring problems will determine his future on the job.