A yet incomplete Super Eagles on the verge of the World Cup
NPFL By: Imo-owo Mbede | 29/09/2017
Early in October, Nigeria will most probably join world defending Champions, Germany, and at least 8 other countries who have so far qualified, to book a place at Russia 2018 World Cup. Among the already qualified teams are Brazil (perennial favourites) and Belgium. Currently parading what has the looks of a golden generation, Belgium have a team that where Simon Mignolet is back-up for Thibaut Cortouis, and where renowned players like Vincent Kompany, Christian Benteke and Michy Batshuayi do not have starting shirts. Similarly, world stars like Thiago Silva, David Luiz and Willian are not regulars in the current Brazilian side. Names may not always count in the generally unpredictable game of football, but as potential contenders, does the Super Eagles have the players to compete favourably with the quantity of quality available to these teams when it struggles in the absence of Mikel Obi, Leon Balogun and Victor Moses?This question is pertinent because with less than a year to the World Cup, Coach Gernot Rohr’s team to the 2018 World Cup is 60% complete. A close examination will reveal that barring injuries, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Abdullahi Shehu, Uwa Echiejile, Leon Balogun, William Ekong, Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi, John Mikel Obi, Victor Moses, Moses Simon, Oghenekaro Etebo, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Odion Ighalo have all but sealed their places in the team. Having a standing team in place is actually a good thing, though the Super Eagles’ management will insist that no players’ place is guaranteed; meaning that any player can be displaced by a better one. So is the management ensuring that the team has the requisite quality and depth for the World Cup by deploying only the best players?To do well at the World Cup, a team needs to have quality in depth. A team needs to have a standard starting eleven as well as a backup cast with as much quality. Unfortunately, a careful scrutiny of the team will reveal that the current Super Eagles is still some distance even from an ideal first eleven given the quality of manpower in certain departments. Herein lies the deficiency in Gernot Rohr’s team which must be addressed by digging up further quality to beef up the team. Quality here does not refer to “big names” – which Nigeria obviously does not even have a lot of currently. Quality here refers to players – irrespective of where they play their club football – with various skillsets and experience to meet specific needs in the team. As much as team synergy surpasses individual talent, it is still extremely important to have quality players in a team’s starting eleven, and even more so, on the bench.While they are all very talented – and with due respect to their abilities – Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Dele Ajiboye, Emmanuel Daniel or Dele Alampasu are at best, backups to the ‘world class’ goalkeeper every team is supposed to have at the World Cup. Carl Ikeme was close, but is very unlikely to be available. Kenneth Omeruo, Uche Agbo and the budding Chidozie Awaziem provide only some extent of cover for Leon Balogun and William-Troost Ekong in central defense. Fledgling Tyronne Ebuehi and Ola Aina appear to be the only options at the wing-back positions currently being unconvincingly manned by Shehu Abdullahi and the waning Elderson Echiejile. All these point to an average very sensitive department of the team. The midfield continues to lack inventiveness and dynamism in the absence of Captain Mikel Obi, while Ogenyi Onazi’s form has clearly taken a dip. Consequently, the team resorts to playing three defensive midfielders in the closing stages of most games in recent times.In nearly two decades, Julius Aghahowa, Obafemi Martins and Emmanuel Emenike have been the only Super Eagles strikers who have come close to the goal-poaching proficiency of Rashidi Yekini. Sadly, however, none of them have typified Yekini’s longevity and consistency. The current team has Odion Ighalo (yet to prove as proficient as the aforementioned trio) as the first choice striker. The other options here have been Kelechi Iheanacho (a support striker who Coach Rohr deploys unsuccessfully as point-man), Success Isaac (who is consistently plagued by injuries), Kayode Olarewaju and Victor Osimhen (who both had an impressive cameo in the loss to South Africa); all proven youth internationals though largely untested at senior international level.For such a sensitive position, the coach needs to take definitive action by selecting and sticking to 2 or 3 players best suited for this role. Overall, the Super Eagles now has something of a starting eleven – which is not necessarily the strongest. While it is true that “not everybody can be invited,” (which in the Nigerian excuse for poor player selection) it does not justify the alienation of players who would obviously improve the team. Massive improvement can actually be made if every sentiment is eschewed in replacing any player in any position, with one who can do better. Ahmed Musa, for instance, was dropped for Moses Simon and this has justifiably strengthened the starting eleven. Meanwhile, the same Musa still provides a strong option coming from the bench.Going forward, if the Super Eagles has ever needed Vincent Enyeama, the time is now. Everything humanly possible must be done to bring him back to the team.Nura Abdullahi is currently injured but presents an option at right back when fit. Same goes for Kingsley Madu who will present one of very limited but much-needed options at left-back.Ovye Monday’s strength, stature, and aerial dominance, makes him an option worth considering in central defense. Anderson Esiti is young, but better endowed physically to offer strength, steel and presence in shielding the defense.Abdul Ajagun and Kingsley Sokari will fill a yawning gap in the team, deputizing when necessary for Captain Mikel, with their undeniable talent.Henry Onyekuru provides an option on the left of the attack given the team’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. In addition to Olarewaju Kayode and Isaac Success (when fit), Fanendo Adi and Chuba Akpom deserve an assessment at the least as they offer further striking options.