Concluding part of the Chief Football Writer’s analysis of Salisu Yusuf’s 23-man squad for the African Nations Championships this month.
As much as the defence is crucial to the success of any team, the midfield with its organisation and the product of the team’s attack in the final third are what eventually produce the goals needed for victories. When the Eagles featured at the WAFU Cup of Nations in Ghana in September, goalscoring proved to be rocket science with the team winning games by the odd goal until they met a rampant hosts who blew them apart in the final.
Yusuf’s squad to Morocco is one with an overload of attacking talents in a move suggestive of the former El-Kanemi Warriors coach’s intent to go gung-ho against their opponents. Knowing how profligate the team’s attackers can typically be, it remains to be seen how productive that move can be.
Atuloma, the only ball winner in a light midfield
For proper clarification, the term “light midfield” has more to do with numbers than quality as the usual suspects Ifeanyi Ifeanyi, Rabiu Ali and Dayo Ojo all made the cut.
The team’s defensive midfield position was left vacant after dependable midfielder Afeez Aremu joined Norwegian side IK Start in December, rendering him ineligible for the tournament. In Aremu’s absence, Raphael Ayagwa, Abdulkadir Zango and Emeka Atuloma were tried out in Kano and it was the latter (ironically listed as a striker by the Federation) who got the nod.
Atuloma who plays for Rivers United in Southern Nigeria is effectively the only midfielder in the team capable of winning tackles, a situation which further emphasises my belief that Yusuf is going to Morocco to attack. The midfielder is not foreign to picking bookings in matches and if he stays true to that in Morocco, they will have to play without someone close to a holding midfielder in one match.
Oladapo can be an asset
Former Ifeanyiubah star Austine Oladapo gatecrashed the team before the Kano tournament and did well enough to impress the coach and my humble self with his diligence and versatility.
A natural left footed winger, Oladapo’s ability to play in central midfield in a ball retention capacity can make him a valuable asset to the team in Morocco. Composed and tidy in midfield, the Enyimba star is exactly an upgrade to MFM’s Sikiru Olatunbosun and was obviously the reason Sikiru did not make the squad.
No place for highly rated Eduwo and Omoyele in attack
Perhaps the biggest omission on the plane to Casablanca is Lobi Stars striker Kingsley Eduwo. The forward was unplayable in the final qualification game against Benin in Kano last August where he scored a vital header to power Nigeria through.
Eduwo’s form has however remarkably waned since then and he struggled badly at the WAFU Cup although he scored a fine goal against MFM in the Kano final. With the emergence of Nura Mohammed and the preference of Enyimba’s Ibrahim Mustapha, Eduwo will not be able to either partner or deputise his clubmate Anthony Okpotu in Morocco.
Another name conspicuously missing on the list was Tosin Omoyele – the highly rated youngster who just joined league champions Plateau United. Omoyele’s effervescence drew a lot of attention in Kano and subsequently earned him an invite to the team’s Abuja camp but with Sunday Faleye’s profile continually rising, Omoyele’s participation will always be hard to come by.
Dear Salisu Yusuf, don’t inhibit them. Please Don’t!
In all, since this list is suggestive of an attacking team, anything contrary or any attempt to suppress the players into a conservative style will be counterproductive to the team.
From defence, Osas Okoro and Ikouwem Udoh are full backs blessed with attacking abilities while wingers Emeka Ogbugh and Peter Moses Eneji provide width on the flanks. Rabiu Ali remains a viable goal scoring threat from midfield and league topscorer Tony Okpotu leads the attack.
It is easily seen that the team indeed has enough ammunition to overcome the tightest of defensive walls. However, if the Super Eagles are caught napping by a predator at the rear especially in the full back positions, Salisu Yusuf must take responsibility for whatever happens in Morocco.
What do you make of Salisu Yusuf’s choices? Are you upbeat on our chances of excelling in Morocco? Let’s have your take at the comments section.