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2014 FIFA World Cup Soccer Fitness Preview: Nigeria – How to Defend Lionel Messi

Because this is a World Cup year, I have decided to countdown to the tournament by providing a short soccer/fitness related preview of each of the 32 participating nations. In this installment, I will look at Nigeria, the current African champions, who have drawn a tough group that includes Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Iran. The Nigerian team will play their first match against Iran on June 15th.

If Nigeria are to get out of their group, they will likely have to win at least one of the 2 games against Iran (June 15th) or Bosnia-Herzegovina (June 21st). Their hopes of advancing, however, may all hinge on how they perform in their final group match, against Argentina on June 25th. That performance, in turn, will likely depend on how well they are able to defend one of the world’s best players, Argentina’s Lionel Messi.

Kenneth Omeruo, Nigeria’s 21 year old central defender and one of the team’s rising stars, had this to say to fifa.com about defending Messi:

“I watch him a lot on TV. It’s going to be a team effort to try and stop him. Everyone will have to be positive and 100 per cent focused on the game.”

Perhaps Omeruo can learn a bit about how to defend against Messi from the player featured in this video, former Italy and AC Milan star Alessandro Nesta. A few defensive principles in particular to watch for in this video are:

– How quickly Nesta closes the space against Messi in the 1v1 situation (speed of approach)
– The close distance he keeps while defending inside the box (stopping distance)
– Nesta does not go to ground to tackle until he is absolutely sure he will win the ball (restraint)
– In the aerial challenge, Nesta moves diagonally backwards while facing forwards, keeping himself “goal-side” and “ball-side” (“see the man, see the ball”)

Can Omeruo and the Nigerian team get the result they need against Argentina and the other tough teams from Group F? We will have to wait and see what happens in 1 month’s time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.

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