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Gernot Rohr and the Super Eagles’ striker conundrum

Super Eagles By: Imo-owo Mbede | 19/04/2018

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The Super Eagles prepare to take on the world at the World Cup in only a matter of weeks. Coach Gernot Rohr has built a side which has fared well without the luxury of exceedingly talented players and holds huge promises for the future.

But as the clock ticks away to the big kick-off in Russia, concerns remain as to the components of his final team – especially in the attack – where he has limited himself to only a few options, due perhaps, to a dearth of quality and experienced out-and-out strikers.

The Super Eagles never really had, say, four world-class strikers per time in the past, but it usually had better quality than what is on offer today. Emmanuel Emenike was the last in the line of Super Eagles’ strikers worthy of the name; a list which includes Osaze Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Julius Aghahowa, John Utaka – not to mention Kanu Nwankwo, Daniel Amokachi, Samson Siasia and Rashidi Yekini.

And so, despite going into the World Cup with a relatively decent goals return during the qualifying series, the Super Eagles does not have a striker even at the level of the aforementioned.

The team has China-based Odion Ighalo as probably the sole torchbearer. Kelechi Iheanacho is the only other ‘prominent’ name in the attacking department, but the youngster has not has a very good season, plus he is naturally a support striker who realistically does not even have a starting shirt in the team’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. Anthony Nwakaeme also took a shot at the top striker role to very negligible effect. A recent glamour for the recall of Obafemi Martins underlines the magnitude of need.

Leagues around the world

A look around the leagues across the world will, however, reveal that there are ample prospects; however, none of these seems to inspire the faith of the coaches due, perhaps, to a lack of international experience.

The Bartholomew Ogbeche story comes readily to mind. A spectacular bicycle kick during a pre-world cup friendly against Paraguay announced the striker, and he was immediately thrust on the big stage during the 2002 World Cup.

Unfortunately, Ogbeche did not meet up to the high expectations at that stage, perhaps due to being prematurely thrown in at the deep end. The fallout of this was a seeming ostracism of “players who are not established and playing regularly in their clubs” from national assignments, now overly emphasized by Coach Gernot Rohr.

But this stance is flawed because it has denied certain deserving players a chance in the team. This position also does not help because currently it has left the team very thin upfront due to an obvious lack of quality as well as inexperience on the part of the Nigerian strikers on the international scene.

Goal stats comparison

Ironically Ogbeche, now 33, is currently among the goals (10 goals and 1 assist in 18 matches) in the Dutch Eredivisie this season, at a time the country desperately needs experienced strikers for the World Cup… Brown Ideye and, to a lesser extent, Aaron Samuel have the requisite international experience. Unfortunately, Ideye’s performances seem to have dipped irreversibly (he recently scored only his first goal for Malaga after 7 games), though Aaron Samuel who is more of a support striker, currently has 3 goals in 11 games for Amkar Perm in Russia. The rest are largely former youth internationals with very limited senior international experience.

After emerging as one of the shining lights of the 2013 Under-17 World Cup winning team, Taiwo Awoniyi is currently doing well on loan at Royal Mouscron in the Belgian league, where he has started 26 of his 29 games, recording 9 goals and 5 assists. However, he is yet to play for the Super Eagles. Junior Ajayi has also scored 9 goals so far this season for Egypt’s Al Ahly; but like Awoniyi, has yet to feature prominently for the Super Eagles having only recently earned an invitation to the team.

After a spirited performance leading the attack to a bronze medal finish at the Olympics two years ago, Umar Sadiq returned to very limited club appearances in Italy. His switch to NAC Breda on loan this January has seen him better express himself with 5 goals and 1 assist in 10 games so far in Holland. He has yet to be invited to the Super Eagles.

For all his proficiency in front of goal over the last 4 seasons with Portland Timbers in the United States, Fanendo Adi is another who has yet to feature for the Super Eagles. He has a goal and two assists in 5 games so far in the new MLS season.

Imoh Ezekiel and Isaac Success’ well-documented struggles at club level continue despite mid-season moves to Spain intended to improve their chances of making the World Cup party. The immensely talented former youth internationals have yet to find the net in 5 and 6 games for Las Palmas and Malaga respectively, but they impressed during their brief appearances in the Super Eagles in the past.

Record top-scorer of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Victor Osimhen is the youngest of the current pool and his scorecard in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg – no goals in 3 starts of 12 games – is understandably not too impressive. However, he gave a very good account of himself on his brief Super Eagles debut (as a late substitute in the 0 – 2 home loss to South Africa) – as did Kayode Olarenwaju, top scorer in the Austrian league two seasons ago. Kayode, despite very little game time, has already registered one goal for Shakhtar Donestsk in Russia, on loan from Manchester City.

The BIG question

This Super Eagles’ predicament begs several questions. With the unfortunate situation of not having enough experienced hands (or legs), shouldn’t the available options be assessed on their adaptability and what they can offer the Super Eagles team? Given the unpredictability of the game, is it logical to pin all hopes on Ighalo and, perhaps, the yet unproven Nwakaeme?

Gernot Rohr has to think this through and make crucial decisions concerning his attack; with precious little time to do so…
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