Thursday, 13 October 2016

Lessons from Ndola

Super Eagles celebrating victory over Zambia in Ndola (Credit NFF.com)
The Super Eagles has started the 2018 World Cup campaign on a good footing with an essential and morale-boosting away win in Ndola over Zambia, considered the weakest team in the group – on paper, that is. This victory has inspired confidence in and within the team but there are salient notes which must be drawn from it.

Carl Ikeme continues to prove that he can banish the ghost of Enyeama’s retirement. Wilfred Ndidi is not a right back and it showed against Zambia where he struggled a bit; however, his versatility will be an asset over time. Uwa Echiejile was excellent when Nigeria won the AFCON (almost four years ago), but seems to be slowing down; scary with the World Cup still two years away. Kenneth Omeruo seems low on confidence and fluffed a major chance to win back his first team shirt. William Ekong continues his progress, growing in stature and influence.

Ogenyi Onazi and John Mikel Obi acquitted themselves well. Moses Simon was very poor against Zambia, while Brown Ideye led the line commendably, but only just. Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho, on the other hand, continue to provide enough sparks to fire up the Eagles.

Coach Gernot Rohr seems to be towing the right path, going the way of youth. By his player selection and the performances so far, there is reason to believe he is doing to right thing. There is visible positive work-in-progress,  but the team is still clearly far from the finished product. 
For instance, despite the experienced likes of Odion Ighalo and Brown Ideye, the bulk of attacking responsibilities seems to have been passed on to the youthful duo of Iheanacho and Iwobi. Mikel Obi is the pivot of the team and it is left to be seen how well the team can cope in the event of an injury or suspension to its captain; just as we do not yet have a dependable alternative for Carl Ikeme. The challenge is how best to use the available materials.

The full-back positions are still very far from convincing (though I would suggest Godfrey Oboabona and Kenneth Omeruo be given a run at right back, since Leon Balogun and  William Ekong seem to have cemented their place as first choice centre-back pairing). Left-back looks shaky as Uwa Echiejile, the only experienced left-back, seems to be slowing down and neither Stephen Amuzie nor Kingsley Madu did justice to the opportunity availed them at the Olympics.

Further up field, Ahmed Musa, Moses Simon, Victor Moses and even Alex Iwobi present an interesting competition on the flanks in Rohr’s seemingly preferred 4-4-2. Iwobi and Victor Moses are – in my opinion – the clear favourites, though. There is the added dimension provided by the likes of Oghenekaro Etebo and Imoh Ezekiel.

Going forward, there are bigger hurdles before the Super Eagles in the form of Algeria and Cameroun. Cameroun was able to neutralize Algeria with close and neat marking in a 4-4-1-1 formation, leaving valuable lessons the Eagles must utilize as we prepare to host the North Africans next month in Uyo. 

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