With a goalless draw and a win, new Super Eagles Coach, Sunday Oliseh has prosecuted the opening two of hopefully, many more games.
The Tanzanians needed a result at home, or at least, a respectable performance after losing their first game in the qualifiers. This explains their zeal, high-powered and physical play which made things difficult for the Eagles in Coach Sunday Oliseh's first competitive game in charge. The second match, a friendly against neighbours Niger Republic, provided an opportunity for the evaluation of players.
Carl Ikeme’s two impressive clean sheets and all-round performance in his first two matches for the Eagles, spoke of his experience and quality and he was quite rightly named ‘Man-of-the-match’ in Dar es Salaam; but is he the long term replacement sought for Vincent Enyeama?
Phillip Madu put up a fair performance against the untiring Tanzanians, while Chima Akas was merely effective against Niger Republic. They are both young and still developing, so with Elderson Echiejile, Juwon Oshaniwa watching from the sidelines, the present and future seem somewhat secured.
Solomon Kwambe is poor technically and so has yet to step-up his game despite being on the fringes of the Eagles for a while now. He was exposed time and again in both games.
Godfrey Oboabona is more experienced and with more defensive options available, his versatility should see him replace Kwambe at right back to allow Kenneth Omeruo and William Ekong to forge a partnership in the centre, while also covering up in the centre when there is need.
Omeruo's unconvincing performances though a concern, are understandably a function of his incoherent development due to an inconsistent club career. He really needs to live up the high expectations of him after about four years in the senior team and I hope his loan move to Turkey can help him do that this term. Ekong too is young and needs more games to stamp his authority in the Eagles backline. Together with Omeruo, they hold huge promises for the future.
The Super Eagles is spoilt for choices in defensive midfield. Ogenyi Onazi, John Mikel, Hope Akpan, newcomers Anderson Esiti and (now) Izunna Ugochukwu, as well as returnee, Obiorah Nwankwo are some of the many options in this department.
Following the Tanzanians midfield onslaught, Izunna and Obiora gave a good account of themselves from a defensive perspective but were denied room to offer anything offensively; especially as neither of them is a box-to-box Trojan, like say, Onazi, nor a visionary passer from deep like Mikel.
This lapse in the midfield was not helped by Lukman Haruna's very unimpressive and uninspiring performance on his return from the international wilderness. He was duly dropped just over half an hour into the first game and did not make the starting list in the second where, in an unexpected but very welcomed twist, a certain Usman Mohammed from within the home league, forced his way into Oliseh's starting line-up in Haruna’s stead and provided glimpses of the much desired spark in the team's midfield. Whether he is the real deal or not, is yet to be seen...
Rabiu Ibrahim has toppled Haruna in the creativity ratings but with just guile and vision without the requisite aggression, can he hold his own and carry the team when the stakes are high?
Sylvester Igboun debuted out of position, replacing Haruna in attacking midfield against Tanzania. He also had an average display against Niger, but has surely sealed a place in the Eagles. I think he should be played as point man or on the left of attack, if his best is to be seen. Moses Simon is still work in progress, but proved he is potentially a huge attacking option with a well-taken goal as a substitute, against Niger; a real confidence booster for him and the team. Ahmed Musa worked hard as always, got into positions, but failed to provide the decisive cutting edge though he scored a penalty against Niger.
Emmanuel Emenike returned to the Eagles fold but was largely subdued by the bullish Tanzanian defense as well as the lack of supply from the midfield. He fared better as a substitute against Niger but was erroneously flagged offside when he thought he had ended his scoring drought after he replaced Anthony Ujah who is still yet to score for the Eagles.
Consequent of these two games, three burning issues face Coach Sunday Oliseh.
The right formation and the right manpower
Other than a new coach and a couple of new players, the team still seems to be made of basically the same stuff. The lack of that quality to provide the creative incisiveness still bedevilling the team raises questions about the expediency of the 4-3-3 formation. It would have been the perfect formation if we still had an Austin Okocha in that free role behind an attacking trio... But we do not!
Sunday Mba was very ordinary; Steven Ukoh did not live up to the billing; Kingsley Sokari has potentials; Lukman Haruna (whom I had so much faith in) failed woefully; Rabiu Ibrahim is all guile but insufficient penetration; home boy Usman Mohammed showed some spark, but it's too early to say. Who can we turn to? Kelechi Iheanacho? Musa Yahaya?
Must the team then stick to this formation just because it is trending in world football when it has obviously failed to yield the desired level of performances and results – and even when we do not yet have the manpower to adequately prosecute it? Wouldn't it be logical to try a formation that is more suited to the players available?
A synergized unit in lieu of world-class quality
It will not be out of place to say that part of the Super Eagles' not-too-impressive showings over the last few years is attributable to the dearth of world-class quality. Finidi George, Sunday Oliseh, Austin Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo and several others were some of the very best in the world in their prime. Unfortunately, same cannot be said of any of the players in the current crop of Super Eagles.
In this event, I suppose the only way to assuage this deficiency is by building a strong cohesive unit, like Greece did en route winning the 2004 Euros. A compact unit whose components thoroughly understand and complement each other is generally more efficient than a side which depends on the virtuoso of a few players.
Generally the defence needs more time together to gel as a unit. This can be facilitated through more competitive play time which Coach Samson Siasia's Olympic team can afford the players. Omeruo, Ekong, Madu and Akas all fall in this category.
Ikeme truly for the long term?
Concerns over Enyeama's impending exit have been allayed by Carl Ikeme's impressive performances so far. Realistically, Ikeme only provides a temporary reprieve as he will be 32 by the 2018 World Cup where Enyeama can still feature aged 36. So is he really that long-term replacement when he may also quit the scene almost at the same time or shortly after Enyeama does? Wouldn't it be reasonable to start introducing young guns like Dele Alampasu, Sebastian Osigwe and John Felagha into the Eagles fold?