With Adebayo Olodan
It is no news that Mikel John Obi Mikel will be leading 22 other Nigerian players to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
While we are still basking in the euphoria of qualifying for the tournament, it is imperative, for officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) to meet with Gernot Rohr in order to start early preparation for the Super Eagles. With the World Cup barely eight months from now, having a roadmap for the team will avert poor performance in Russia.
The technical crew and the NFF must among its plan, line up ‘A grade’ international friendly matches for the Eagles between now and June 2018.
Also, Rohr must draw up a list of players that will form the core of the team from those that prosecuted the qualifiers. In the same vein, Rohr and his subordinates must identify the areas where the team may need reinforcement. This should be followed up with scouting of Nigerian players across Europe and other leagues across the world to fix the weak links in the team.
Among the areas that should be reinforced is the goalkeeping department as none among Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Daniel Akpeyi, Dele Alampasu and Dele Ajiboye is convincing enough to be trusted with the gloves at the World Cup proper. Of the three, Ezenwa inspires the most confidence judging by his performances against Cameroon and at the recently concluded WAFU competition. For his heroics between the sticks in those matches, the IfeanyiUba FC safe hands will be better as a second or third choice keeper for the Eagles at the World Cup.
With Carl Ikeme unlikely to recover fully from leukaemia next June, Rohr will do well to welcome veteran goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama back to the team, though the Lille shot stopper is presently recuperating from an injury.
One goalkeeper Rohr may need to turn his attention to is, Paul Uzoho, Deportivo La Coruna. According to reports, the former U-17 keeper is making steady progress at the Spanish club and it may not be a bad idea to try him out in friendly matches. There is also a Swiss-born Nigerian keeper, Sebastian Osigwe, who is presently minding net for Kriens in Switzerland and Bosnian-based David Nwokolor.
Another position that the coach must work on is the fullbacks as Elderson Echiejile have consistently struggled for form while out of about four players tried by Rohr, only Shehu Abdullahi has impressed at right-back. Aside finding a reliable left-back to replace Echiejile, the gaffer will need to find a natural right-back to compete with Abdullahi.
In the heart of defence, the duo of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong has formed a good understanding but the coach must work on his options should any of his first choice pairing be unavailable due to injury or suspension.
Despite impressing at their club sides in Europe, Uche Agbo and Chigozie Awaziem have yet to stand up to be counted in the green and white colours hence there may be need to call up the experienced and Scotland based Efe Ambrose and centre halves. Rohr may also consider playing any of Wilfred Ndidi and Mikel as makeshift central defender, especially as the Eagles is blessed with plethora of midfielders.
In the middle of the pack, there is no point inviting or going to the World Cup with a paperweight midfielder like Mikel Agu, judging by the large number of Nigerian midfielders impressing in Europe. Ogenyi Onazi is another player that I believe has suffered a blip in form of late and I expect Rohr to try out other players in his role. If the diminutive Onazi fails to shape up in subsequent matches of the Eagles, I will not be surprised to see him dropped from the squad that will be flying to Russia next June. While the efforts of Onazi in helping Nigeria qualify for the World Cup is highly appreciated, it must be stated that it is not binding on Rohr to ensure the player or anyone makes the final selection for Russia.
Midfielders like John Ogu, Nosa Igiebor, Abduljeleel Ajagun, Okechukwu Azubuike and Michael Babatunde among others should be given decent playing time in friendly matches.
In attack, Simon Moses and Victor Moses have justified their places in the team but may need stiff competition which the match rusty Ahmed Musa is unable to provide at the moment. Odion Ighalo has been left alone in a world of his own as the point man but going to Russia, it is important for the team to have better options. The likes of Kelechi Iheanacho, Anthony Nwaekeme, Brown Ideye (if he gets invited again) and others must provide Ighalo the needed competition as the first choice striker.
More importantly, the coach must work assiduously on the conversion rate of his profligate forwards. In Russia, chances may be far between reason our strikers must sharpen their goal scoring boots. For any goal scoring chance wasted, the team may end up ruing such opportunity.
In his attempt to bolster the squad, Rohr must give equal opportunity to domestic league players.
More importantly, the issue of match bonus which often portray the nation in bad light to the rest of the world must be sorted out on time to avoid national embarrassment.