With Adebayo Olodan
Tension is already building up among football fans with the 2018 World Cup in Russia barely one week from now.
For the Nigerian football aficionados they are looking forward to a decent showing from the Super Eagles in Russia. Even the disappointing 1-1 draw at home to Democratic Republic of Congo and the 1-2 loss to England at Wembley Stadium could not dissuade Nigerian fans from paying as huge as N41, 000 ($115) to buy the colourful jersey of the Eagles.
The results on the pitch have been abysmal for the Eagles in recent months. We have only won one of our last five matches; Nigeria 0-4 Morocco, Nigeria 1-0 Poland, Nigeria 0-2 Serbia, Nigeria 1-1 DR Congo, Nigeria 1-2 England. However, Nigerian fans may play down the results from those international friendly matches as this time 16 years ago, Nigeria recorded some impressive results ahead of Korea/Japan 2002 but ended up exiting the tournament at the group stage. Prior to the 2002 World Cup, the Eagles defeated Scotland 2-1, Republic of Ireland 2-1 and ended up preparation with a 1-1 draw against Paraguay but at the tournament proper, the team lost 0-1 to Argentina, 1-2 to Swden and played out a goalless draw with England.
When the World Cup finally gets underway in Russia, the Super Eagles jersey is likely to be one of the best if not the most colourful at the tournament.
In those matches against DR Congo and England, the Super Eagles put up a display that incomparable to the quality of jersey designed for our players by Nike. The jersey got the Nigerian fans especially those in London excited that three million jerseys were sold out in 30 seconds. In addition to the colourful jersey Nike went a step further by customising the boots of the players with the inscription of their names.
At the moment, it is too late to discuss which player should have made the squad or who among Gernot Rohr’s 23-man squad should have been dropped; all that is required is for the coaches to get the best out of their playing staff.
As the team rounds up preparation for the World Cup, Rohr and his technical team need to work on certain areas if the team is to go beyond the group stage of the tournament.
From the goalkeeper to defence, midfield and attack, there is the need for improvement on the part of the players. The coaches must work on tactics, team discipline, defending, passes and shooting in order to get the desired results against Croatia, Iceland and in the final group game against Argentina.
Already the off the pitch controversies that in the past jolted the chances of the team have been settled and this is the first time Nigeria will be going to the World Cup with no issues of outstanding bonuses, ticket fare or disagreement over match bonuses. All our players have to do in Russia is to replicate that gesture from the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) with results on the pitch.
With Ogenyi Onazi and Joel Obi apparently playing themselves out of the starting line-up in Russia with their below par performances against England, I expect Rohr to turn his attention to John Ogu in midfield.
Based on form, Rohr should consider lining up these players in the opening match against Croatia for Nigeria to secure the three points;
Goalkeeper: Francis Uzoho, Right Wing Back: Victor Moses, Left Wing Back: Brian Idowu Centre Back: Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo, Midfield: Wilfred Ndidi, John Ogu and John Obi Mikel, Forward: Odion Ighalo and Alex Iwobi.
Playing three central defenders will help solidify our defence as our midfielders are unconvincing at the moment just as Leon Balogun in the heart of defence looks rusty and may need some time to regain full match fitness.
If any of Moses or Idowu need to be replaced in the course of the match, Rohr must consider the option of Tyronne Ebuehi and Shehu Abdullahi in that order while in the midfield the gaffer may opt to play Iwobi as an attacking midfielder while Mikel be restored in his natural defensive midfield role. In attack, I particularly look forward to seeing Crotone striker, Simeon Nwankwo (Simy) celebrate scoring in the green and white jersey in Russia. Already, he has won the thrust of Rohr and should Ighalo fail to sparkle in the first match, Simy may end up playing more minutes than he expected in Russia. The striker has the physique, footwork and work ethics to succeed in the Eagles but he will need to repay the gaffer’s trust in him against our group opponents. It will be a delight if he gets the opportunity to score a replica of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal like he did in the Serie A against Juventus.
Super Eagles must soar by going for goals in Russia!