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Russia 2018: Which way Super Eagles?

Super Eagles' Team photo ahead of Russia 2018 World Cup. (Photo: Twitter/@theNFF)
by Ijeoma Okigbo, AIPS Member


Abuja, June 12, 2018 - When the Super Eagles of Nigeria file out against Croatia on June 16 at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, they could be for spectators ‘a beautiful bride’.

Rated as the youngest team in the tournament, first African side to qualify without losing a game in the qualifiers and arguably adorned with the finest jersey in the mundial, the Super Eagles will be making their sixth appearance at football’s biggest fiesta.

Away from the accolades and facing the possibility of a first ever quarter-final spot, the team's handler, Gernot Rohr, does not seem to be satisfied with his 23 man squad.

The team’s performance, following its six pre-World Cup friendly matches ahead of the tournament, questions Nigeria’s readiness for the tournament, having won two, drawn one and lost three.

It is even more worrisome when only few days to the tournament, Rohr said on the team’s Twitter handle @ngsupereagles that the team was not ready.

“We have nine days to be ready for our first match against Croatia, as at today we are not ready,” the German said following the team’s 0-1 loss to Czech Republic in Austria on June 6.

He however said he was more focused on the tournament proper. “I am not sad because of this result. The result that matters will be in Russia,” the coach added.

But why is Rohr’s Eagles not ready, few days to the event's kick-off? Let's peep into the various departments of the team and see ex-internationals’ opinions on them.

Goalkeeping

Since Nigeria’s qualification for the World Cup, Rohr has held on to the challenge of not having an experienced first-choice goalkeeper for the World Cup.

With the absence of Carl Ikeme, following an unfortunate diagnosis of leukaemia, home-based Ikechukwu Ezenwa deputized between the sticks for the most part of 2017, helping Nigeria qualify for the summer tournament.

Ezenwa’s obvious lack of composure and poor ball handling, as well as Daniel Akpeyi’s errors in the friendly against the La Albiceleste of Argentina, brought the duo under fans’ criticism thereby paving the way for 19-year-old Francis Uzoho.

After Uzoho's performance against Argentina, Rohr sent a goalkeeper trainer to work with the Deportivo La Coruna Team B goalkeeper.

The teenager remained the best choice throughout the team's friendlies, capping six times for the national team and his progress caught the eye of the team's former goalie, Ike Shoronmu.

“I am impressed with what I have seen throughout the friendlies. Uzoho has the height, good reflexes and as time goes on he will improve.

“He is very young and has a lot of prospects. The other goalkeepers are good as well but it seems the team has decided to settle with the young lad.

“We can only wish the team the best,” the team’s former goalkeeper trainer said.

Defence

Abdullahi Shehu enjoyed the right-back position throughout the qualifying series but the introduction of Tryonne Ebuehi has opened up real competition for the spot.

In the central defence, the once-dependable partnership of William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun, commonly described as the "oyibo wall" has been faulted by many, including former Super Eagles defender Waidi Akanni.

Akanni said the pairing of the two at the heart of the national team’s defence may not be Nigeria’s best option in Russia.

“I have never been too comfortable with them. I am happy Kenneth Omeruo has come back and I think he should give them stiff competition.

“So far, Ekong and Balogun have not been playing well together like they did during the qualifiers. With Omeruo jumping into the fray, I think we will have a better defence line.

“The introduction of Chelsea defender Kenneth Omeruo, who replaced Balogun in the second half of the Nigeria/England friendly stabilised the defence and warded off England’s attack while the Eagles were two goals down.

“In the end, it will be between Ekong, Omeruo and Balogun.

“But I am happy Omeruo to an extent has done enough to show the coach that he could compete for a place in our central defence,” Akanni added.He also stated that there were still areas where the coach had to work on.

“Basically, we need to work on the left-back and then of course one or two players in the midfield. Once we get a good combination, I think we will do well,” he said.


Captain of the Super Eagles, John Obi Mikel. (Photo: Twitter/ @FIFAWorldCup


Midfield

The team's midfield boasts of experienced skipper Mikel Obi, Russia-based Bryan Idowu, Ogenyj Onazi and recuperating Leicester City's Wilfred Ndidi, yet a former Green Eagles player Bitrus Bewarang wants Eagles’ midfield to be more mobile.

“I feel we need to get the right combination in our midfield. We need speed and more mobility in the midfield so that the attack could function better.

“I think the coach has been trying to build a team and I believe that now he has seen all the players from the various friendly matches.

“With few days left before Nigeria’s first match, I am sure what is next for him will be to stabilise the team.

“Hopefully, by the time we play our first match on Saturday against Croatia, we will be able to get the result we desire,’’ Bewarang, a former Super Eagles Assistant Coach, said.

However, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) technical committee member is optimistic that the team would perform well in Russia.

“As a coach I always believe that we should always expect the best from our players. Our players under Rohr have been doing well in terms of passion and dedication.

“That is why everybody has the confidence that they will do better than in previous competitions and I believe that too,” Bewarang added.

Attack

Some football fans think that starting China-based Odion Ighalo may not grind out the best result as compared to the introduction of Kelechi Iheanacho, Ahmed Musa and Alex Iwobi.

In all, various lapses still exist in the team, while we can only hope that the squad improves speedily before their first game.

NFF Secretary-General, Mohammed Sanusi, has expressed optimism that the Super Eagles will have a good outing.

Sanusi wants fans not to judge the team based on friendlies played adding that “the results don’t really matter because I know our boys were not at their best.”

“There is no cause for alarm; the Super Eagles will bounce back,” he said.

The NFF scribe added that the federation has done its part in preparing the team for the World Cup, adding that it is now left for the team to reciprocate the gesture by getting results in Russia.
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