As Nigeria leaves for Praia on Monday, the German coach’s team has pretty much determined him
For all that slightly undercut the performance and the score, Friday’s 2-0 win over Liberia was a crucial factor in getting Nigeria the best possible start to the World Cup qualifiers.
Although few people would have really thought that the Super Eagles really could not succeed in qualifying for the second round of Africa, strange things happened. In addition, there is a long, awkward history of being late to turn on the afterburners, an approach that the continent’s most famous country announced in 2006.
However, the days seem to be long gone. Nigeria has achieved a wonderful place in terms of composition: compared to its contemporaries in Africa, this crop is favorable to some of its more talented predecessors, while at the same time being free from the egocentrism caused by the state of the late 90s to mid-2000s relative to their counterparts in the world.
As such, there are fewer cases where key players simply decide to skip matches on difficult ground or intentionally show up; the kind of twists that the Super Eagles have undermined in the past.
Nevertheless, before Tuesday’s meeting with Cape Verde, Gernot Rohr finds himself without the services of as many as six beginners. This time, however, it has less to do with their pleasantness to the height and uncertain foot of the grass in Praia, and more to do with the British travel restrictions due to Covid.
This, of course, is not an unexpected twist.
While the 68-year-old has called up an extensive group to provide in this exact scenario, the experience and fitness levels of the substitutes are obviously of great concern, especially the German himself. “It is not easy to build another team in just two days,” he said in the wake of the Liberian result.
‘Build another team’ may seem like a hyperbolic phrase change, making even the inconvenience of a second language possible.
After all, the extended group contains only two players who have never been called up before. The fact that the two are in the area most dominated means Rohr is actually building a different team, as Kingsley Michael and Innocent Bonke are taken as a pair in midfield.
This is a position of strategic importance, especially in a match where it is likely to be difficult for Nigeria to come under pressure.
The fact that the hard, relentless surface in the store does not cause a pleasant variation of the wet, heavy grass field of the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos tells its own story.
The key question is how a newborn midfield partnership can respond to this challenge.
If reports are to be believed, Rohr has rushed his mast to the Michael and Bonke wagon, but there is something to be said about the experience and solidity that a Shehu Abdullahi can offer along with someone, even if it is the fact that the Omonia is responsible. The Nicosia man rarely played in midfield under this coaching dispensation.
It would be damning if he was overlooked and questioned the wisdom of calling him in the first place, as there is already depth on the right wing, the one position in which he appeared most while Rohr was in charge .
Elsewhere, the team chooses itself reasonably, but not without stylistic concern.
With Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong, Nigeria is not only without its central defensive block, but the complementary dynamics behind it are lost.
Chidozie Awaziem and Kenneth Omeruo are capable defenders most of the time, but they are both by nature and impulse forefoot, and can therefore be pulled out and bypassed.
Valentine Ozornwafor, a Rohr favorite, has a calmer nature, but does not have the nose and fit sharpness, to be a real option for a game of any significance. (This again questions the purpose of adding him to the team first).
Maduka Okoye, Ola Aina, Jamilu Collins, Moses Simon and Victor Osimhen should all retain their places – especially the last of this quartet will be crucial with his pace of work if the Super Eagles are mastered and need a reliable outlet.
This leaves two positions, and here are some decisions that need to be made.
There will undoubtedly be a penchant for starting Ahmed Musa with Osimhen beforehand, while the Fatih Karagumruk man continues his relentless march to the record for Nigeria’s international matches.
However, as the 2018 World Cup faded, it became increasingly difficult to remember his last striking performance in green and white.
His pace is declining and his condition is far from optimal, but perhaps the biggest negative in his column is the feeling that he is being played out at this stage.
You know what you get from Musa, and even at best it was just as good as a coin.
Terem Moffi could rather offer something more exciting. He probably has the best movement of the attackers in the team, and can benefit greatly from the attack on the field, while Osimhen searches wide.
On the opposite side of where Simon starts, there are a handful of choices.
Henry Onyekuru has never been completely convinced on the international stage, and his share is at its lowest since he broke out in 2017, so he could possibly look on the outside.
Samuel Kalu and Chidera Ejuke are undoubtedly the frontrunners, but it is the former that is likely to get the nod, as it looks like Rohr is shining himself, form and fitness properly.
Recommended starting lineup: Okoye; Aina, Awaziem, Omeruo, Collins; Kalu, Bonke, Shehu, Simon; Moffi, Osimhen.