Nigeria’s tour of Europe ended in the most emphatic manner on a wintry Tuesday evening as the Super Eagles lost 0-2 to a robust Serbian side at The Hive in London.
The reactions which trailed the loss could have passed for one in epic proportions; but that can only leave one surprised if you do not understand the unique Nigerian terrain as rightly posited by our “Oyibo Wall” in this interview before the game. (https://www.aclsports.com/10682-2/ )
Without mincing words, the Eagles were soundly and deservedly beaten by the majestic Serbians who overpowered and perfected all Poland failed to do in Friday’s loss to the Eagles. Branislav Ivanovic rolled back the years, Luka Milivojevic showed class, Fillip Kostic unplayable and Aleksandr Mitrovic might just have earned himself a recall to Newcastle immediately after the World Cup with his display.
The essence of the friendlies however, have not been defeated. Nigeria faced Serbia without Leon Balogun, the defensive warhorse and captain John Mikel Obi – the calming influence on which the team’s foundation is laid, giving another room for the auditioning of possible backups. At the end of it all, I am of the belief that Mr Rohr – deep inside of him – already has nineteen players pencilled down for the Mundial.
Here is the collection of Eagles that I think are destined for Russia, injuries permitting.
The most definite name heading to Russia is Francis Uzoho. The youngster lasted the entire duration in both games and left many opinions divided. The consensus opinion though is that he is one for the future. So, with Rohr already offered an extension to his contract, it is logical that he will take Uzoho along with him. First choice or second choice? Only a matter of time.
The inability of Daniel Akpeyi to come for the tour would have disappointed Rohr’s plans since Ezenwa is not match fit after having only played once since injuring his knee in Marrakech at the African Nations Championship on January 31. Akpeyi is the only one among the current trio who boasts of playing at a top tier league, at least in the past five months and Rohr standing by him despite his many gaffes means he will join Uzoho in Russia.
The other spot is reserved for Ikechukwu Ezenwa if he can get himself good time of action at Enyimba or perhaps an unlikely recall for Vincent Enyeama or Dele Ajiboye.
In spite of the many frailties shown by the defensive department over the two friendlies, I believe it is almost too late to try something new and also; where is the something new? Bryan Idowu seems to have established himself as first choice left back with Elderson Echiejile the second choice while Shehu Abdullahi and Tyronne Ebuehi will be the right backs – leaving Ola Aina with a wildcard opportunity I believe.
There remains growing concern as to what happens when and if Leon Balogun gets injured but it is almost certain that Chidozie Awaziem will be joining Balogun and his Oyibo Wall partner, William Troost-Ekong in Russia. There still lies the big question mark on Kenneth Omeruo as Rohr has shown he does not have faith in the experienced star.
Gernot Rohr has an abundance of options in this position but he will continue to scratch his head on why he has seemingly failed to get the system working in the absence of captain John Mikel Obi. Not even the trial of the captain’s namesakes; Mikel Agu and Joel Obi have been able to drive home a semblance of organisation and pattern which Mikel Obi’s presence brings in the middle.
Rohr has shown over time that he is not one that rushes for the change and it is quite easy to note that his midfield cast will comprise of captain John Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi, Wilfred Ndidi and Ogenekaro Etebo. Returnee Joel Obi who I believe profited from having enough playing time during the friendlies may have played himself in even if his performances were not as coherent as expected but he will still have to fight for a remaining slot.
The other midfield slot(s) up for grabs should be decided between Obi, Rohr’s favourite Mikel Agu, fans favourite John Ogu and nobody’s favourite Uche Agbo.
I am joining the two wing positions into the attack because Rohr favours a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation above others. The first names on the team sheet will definitely be England based duo Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi and they have their deputies, as of now in Ahmed Musa and Daddy Moses Simon respectively.
The only two high profile attackers Nigeria have at the moment are Odion Ighalo and Kelechi Iheanacho and I expect both to be in Russia. Rohr has spoken recently of his desire for a battling ram upfront and the only name that can be remembered which has played under him is Brown Ideye. With his regular playing time now at Malaga serving as an advantage, it remains to be seen if Rohr will look in Ideye’s direction seeing that Gabriel Okechukwu who has such imposing figure was not considered for action in London.
One of the four remaining positions statutorily goes to a goalkeeper so, that should already be settled. Kenneth Omeruo might, for the sake of experience eventually play himself into the squad but I believe Ola Aina is favoured to be in Russia in any capacity.
Torino’s Joel Obi seems to be in pole position in the midfield ahead of Ogu, Agu and Agbo and while in the attack, Junior Ajayi only has an outside chance; provided he is lucky enough to be invited for the next round of matches while one slot may be reserved for Rohr’s supposed battling ram; a profile Ajayi does not fit into.
There should be some surprises but in actual fact, Rohr has hardly ever surprised me. With less than three months to the World Cup finals, it is highly unexpected that there will be changes except from within the team.
The Destined Nineteen:
Francis Uzoho, Daniel Akpeyi
Shehu Abdullahi, Tyronne Ebuehi, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Chidozie Awaziem, Elderson Echiejile and Bryan Idowu.
John Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi, Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenekaro Etebo.
Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Daddy Moses Simon, Ahmed Musa, Odion Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho.