Nigeria’s countdown to the 2018 World Cup commenced with the Super Eagles scrappy – if not controversial – lone goal victory over Poland at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw, which had plenty of end-to-end action and both teams surely having plenty to take home from the encounter.
The friendly matches will serve to assess the team and correct any deficiencies going into the world cup. Coach Gernot Rohr and his crew therefore
have a job on their hands to identify and rectify both glaring and latent deficiencies in the team as they try out various players and tactics.
This victory over Poland – who dropped only 5 points from a possible 30 to top their World Cup qualifying group ahead of Denmark, Montenegro and
Romania – will greatly boost the Eagles’ confidence. However, the victory also revealed lapses in some areas of the team, as much as it showed signs of progress in certain others.
Take a bow, “Oyibo Wall”. The Super Eagles central defensive partnership of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong continues to blossom after Balogun’s return to form. The duo successfully shackled world-class Poland and Bayern Munich striker, Robert Lewandowski, for over an hour.
Winning ugly. The Super Eagles did not have an exceptional game. The team looked disjointed and labouriously out of sync at times. They even conceded a goal which was wrongly disallowed. However, they still managed to pull-off
a win, courtesy of a Victor Moses penalty.
Positive attitude. The team continued from where it stopped against Argentina; to exude positive vibes during games. This can be attributed to a culture of hard work, self-belief and
palpable harmony within the team.
The negatives to be addressed ahead of Serbia tie
Goalkeeper search continues. The quest for ‘that’ World Cup goalkeeper continues. Francis Uzoho started shakily but regained his confidence to finish on a high. The team cannot afford to go to a World Cup with goal keepers
who tremble during mere friendly games. It is hoped that Uzoho will be given a decent run of games to build the required confidence and international experience – meaning he should start against Serbia in the next game.
Still fragile left-back. Uwa Echiejile has clearly declined; Ola Aina is still learning the left-back role while Brian Idowu who featured was subdued against Poland. Who will bell the cat?
Aerial vulnerability. The Poles revealed the aerial vulnerability of the Super Eagles. This was evident in the Nigerians’ inability to win aerial duels and very significant struggles during set-pieces against Poland which ranks 23rd on the scale of tallest teams in Europe. This is a great concern which requires urgent tactical attention because the Eagles will face Iceland and Croatia (ranked 3rd and 15th amongst Europe’s tallest teams respectively) at the World Cup. Fortunately, the Super Eagles has
the opportunity to address this against her next opponent, Serbia – Europe’s “tallest team” in 2017.
The team struggled to create anything from the middle, while transition
of play was laboured
due to the absence of team captain John Mikel Obi. On the back of his performance, Joel Obi’s return seems late (though he was never exactly a playmaker), while the legion of defensive-minded midfielders comprising Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi and
John Ogu offer pitifully little going forward.
Mikel - the player we loved, hated, then fell in love with all over again, should start as has proved to be the fulcrum around which the Super Eagles revolve. Mikel’s influence over the team has gone beyond simple football, it is almost spiritual. Therefore, if Mikel takes one of Gernot Rohr’s preferred three-man midfield, who among the others, take up the remaining two places?
Some will argue that Wilfred Ndidi has the second place on lockdown too. And they may be right. The Leicester City man has been in phenomenal form in the Premiership,
and has been credited with ‘the most tackles in a game Europe’ on more than one occasion. This means that when Mikel starts his ‘roaming’, the Eagles can be sure somebody is sitting, covering the defence
. And if Ndidi is also a lock; that leaves just one more place…
And there are several candidates, and options open. First, the available candidates: John Ogu, Joel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi, and Uche Agbo. There are others, but these are the leading candidates. The options are only two really: Rohr would need offensive midfielders when Eagles need goals, and defensive midfielders when they need to hold.
Obi and Ogu are the ones capable of scoring goals; Obi is the most intriguing of the lot but lacked a bit of confidence against Poland, he’s scored more goals this season than in his entire career put together before now. But Ogu offers accurate long range shots,
and will have space for those missiles when the wingers draw defenders away.
Each opponent will determine which formation coach Gernot plays. And this depends on how Rohr plans to approach the game but his biggest headache ahead of the World Cup as evident in the Poland clash Will be dealing with the absence of Mikel and sorting out the goalkeeping department.
Whatever the amiable German gaffer decides to do, he has the Serbia game and other pre-World Cup friendlies to first try it out.