Nigeria will go into this weekend's 2019 African Nation's Cup qualifier against South Africa's Bafana Bafana with a lot of optimism. Coach Gernot Rohr has so far done a commendable job of rebuilding the team. He has deployed a youthful template to breed a team which, going by results and performances at this budding stage, looks certain to be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
However, as with every incipient project, there are still some loose ends that need to be tightened. Despite a rich avalanche of talents at the Coach's disposal, the team is still limited in certain vital areas.
After the sudden resignation of arguably Nigeria's best ever goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama, Carl Ikeme stepped in as a worthy stitch in time. Unfortunately, Ikeme is often plagued by injuries, at which times former youth internationals Daniel Akpeyi and Ikechukwu Ezenwa have deputized. The duo have however, not entirely proven that they can hold their own at the highest level.
The younger Dele Alampasu and Emmanuel Daniel look to be good prospects going into the future, but Alampasu might still be a little immature as yet, while Daniel doesn't seem to tickle the coach's fancy. Consequently, the goalkeeping position somewhat reeks of uncertainty at the moment.
There is still a large crack at right back. None of Kenneth Omeruo, Shehu Abdullahi, Musa Mohammed, and lately Tyrone Ebuehi and Ola Aina has so far been able to satisfactorily replicate the enterprise of Reuben Agboola, Jero Shakpoke, Joseph Yobo and Chidi Odiah to stake a decent claim to this position. Should Coach Rohr recall Godfrey Oboabona to give the younger ones more time to bed in?
There is a similar lacuna at the left back position. Worsened by the paucity of alternatives, this position is probably where the most work needs to be done. Kingsley Madu, currently uninvited, has so far failed to translate youthful promise to a much-desired reality while Ola Aina is a versatile but untested option. The buck still starts and stops with the waning Uwa Echiejile who has been on a steady regression after the AFCON 2013 victory; a bad omen with the World Cup looming in just a year's time...
The Super Eagles is currently spoilt for choice in the once problematic midfield, especially defensively. However, the creative end of the team's engine room still leaves a lot to be desired with Captain Mikel Obi's current injury in the short term, and his impending exit, after another year or so. Oghenekaro Etebo, Alex Iwobi and homeboy Alhassan Ibrahim all have their strengths, but none can be said to have the natural creative and calm dictating influence Mikel brings to the midfield.
Considering this deficit, it is surprising that Abdul Ajagun, Kingsley Sokari and Usman Mohammed continue to be frozen out of the team.
Every successful team in world football has a designated goal-getter or two. This presents another crack in the Super Eagles - the lack of a consistent marksman and poacher. Young Kelechi Iheanacho (with 7 goals in 10 matches) continues to shoulder the team's goal-scoring responsibilities but this over-dependence on him is a fatal gamble.
Isaac Success has the potentials to be that man, but he will need to be more committed and consistent. Henry Onyekuru brings an added dimension to the attack, but he is not an out-and-out striker. Kayode Olarewaju is now in the senior set-up after impressing in the lower cadres over the last few years; but does not seem to have the all-round character, ability and consistency to lead the Eagles attack. Stephen Odey is coming into the mix on the back of a rich vein of domestic goal-scoring form; he remains a good future prospect.
The old guard, Brown Ideye and Odion Ighalo, may boast invaluable experience but are realistically, past their best - and World Cup is still a year away. More so, even in their prime, they have not been as lethal as say, Julius Aghahowa, Obafemi Martins, Emmanuel Emenike or even the young Kelechi.
Yet there is a certain Fanendo Adi who, going by his performances in the last two and half seasons in America's MLS, is the closest thing to the vintage finisher/poacher the team direly needs. Adi recently became the joint leading goalscorer in Portland Timbers' history, equaling the 45 goals milestone of John Bain in 94 appearances (54 games short of John Bain's 148 games).
Where does this leave Coach Rohr? An urgent task of filling these cracks with the right players - and some have been mentioned here - to blend with the team on ground so far. With World Cup qualifying matches coming up in two months hence, Rohr has precious little time to get this done.