FEATURE: Maximizing the Algeria and Argentina matches

World Cup 2018 By: Imo-owo Mbede | 08/11/2017

The 2018 World Cup Qualifying match against Algeria and the friendly against Argentina provide the World Cup-bound Super Eagles an opportunity for self-appraisal and improvement. Coming back-to-back within only a few days, the two matches afford Coach Gernot Rohr a perfect opportunity to assess both fringe and new players with a view to permanent integration. The matches should also provide the coach an opportunity to try out other formations other than the “default”4-3-3 currently in use.

The Algeria game would be ideal to assess fringe and new players in a semi-competitive situation, while Argentina provides an assessment ofthe full strength team against world class opposition. Coach Rohr’s selection of players suggests he may tow this path, despite questions as to the rationale behind some of his selections, as well as to the seeming imbalance which has become the hall mark of his selection process.

A breakdown of the players to prosecute the two games shows:

3 goalkeepers (Ezenwa, Akpeyi, Uzoho)

2 right backs (Shehu, Ebuehi)

1 left back (Aina)                                                   

5 centre backs; 2 of whom can play as right backs (Balogun, Ekong, Agbo, Awaziem, Omeruo)

4 defensive midfielders (Ndidi, Agu, Ogu, Nwakali)

2 attacking midfielders (Mikel, Etebo)

3 wide men (Musa, Onyekuru, Iwobi)

1 support striker (Iheanacho)

2 top strikers (Nwaekeme, Kayode)

Ezenwa is currently the team’s first choice goalkeeper while Daniel Akpeyi has taken his turn unconvincingly on a couple of occasions. Dele Alampasu, who has been with the team throughout the qualifiers,should have gotten his opportunity this time, but was dropped.

In defence, Abdullahi Shehu gets to continue his impressive evolution. However, it will be nice for Tyronne Ebuehi to start the Algeria game. Originally, Coach Rohr invited 4 centre-backs and 5 defensive midfielders. Strangely, a defender (Kenneth Omeruo) who was on the standby list was called in to replace an injured defensive midfielder (OgenyiOnazi)! The team now has 5 centre-backs and 4 defensive midfielders…

UwaEchiejile has been left outfrom this round of games to give Ola Aina a decent run at left back, but it is shocking that Coach Rohr does not see the need to invite another player for this position,despite having 5 centre-backs, in the team!

It is hoped that Uche Agbo and one of Kenneth Omeruo and Chidozie Awaziem, gets to start against the Algerians.

In the midfield, a major headline of Rohr’s latest list is the invitation of Chidiebere Nwakali from near-obscurity. His talent is clearly undeniable and on that ground, his invitation is not questionable. What is questionable is the yet inexplicable continued exclusion of Anderson Esiti in preference for Mikel Agu.

The lack of creative players still persists as the Coach refuses to look beyond John Mikel Obi and Oghenekaro Etebo. Alex Iwobi can also play in this role, but the Algeria game would have been a good opportunity to invite and assess long-alienated options like Abdul Ajagun and Kingsley Sokari – the same way Nwakali got invited.

The first choice attacking trio of OdionIghalo, Moses Simon and Victor Moses will be missing the two games due to injury. This will provide ample opportunity for the likes of Anthony Nwaekeme and the recalled duo of Henry Onyekuru and Olarewaju Kayode, to stake a claim for a place in the first team.

It remains to be seen how Coach Rohr will utilize his players in the upcoming matches to further improve the lot of the Super Eagles. Beyond the assessment of players and considering that there is not a lot at stake, Coach Rohr has the luxury of these matches to try out other tactical formations. Versatile players like Etebo, Iwobi, Musa, Kayode and Onyekuru offer tactical flexibility which must be harnessed to further strengthen the team.

Imo-owo Mbede writes for fcnaija.com. follow him on twitter @ImoMbede