The interestingly christened #JollofDerby is now upon us. Nigeria’s Super Eagles face their eternal rivals Black Stars of Ghana in a double-header to determine who picks one of Africa’s five slots to this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
While the Ghanaians have a new coach in place, albeit in interim capacity in Otto Addo, Nigeria will be led by Augustine Eguavoen who was in charge of the team’s bittersweet campaign at the Africa Cup of Nations in January.
As expected for an occasion as big as this derby, the build-up to the fixture has been sweetened by lots of news, banters, claims and counter-claims from fans and officials of both sides.
The magnitude of the task at hand can however not be watered down by whatever happens on the fringes and Eguavoen is in a perfect place to know what qualifying for the World Cup means to Nigerians, himself having played in two finals and attended another as assistant coach.
To make this Qatar Dream possible, there are three things (among many others) that Eguavoen must ponder on before making his tactical decisions before both legs.
One of the highlights of Nigeria’s qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia was the celebrated heroics of the two Europe-born centre backs William Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun. They were truly special in that journey but here is a rude awakening; that was five years ago.
Evolution is one of the gifts of life and organisms that fail to evolve risk unraveling. That seems to be the case with the now cracked (putting it mildly) wall of Oyibo. In the dying days of the previous regime, the pair together failed to reenact the zeal and assuredness of previous years.
For the game against Ghana, Eguavoen has this duo available for him for the first time since he took the reins in December and will surely be faced with enormous temptations towards fielding them. However, Cerezo must must know that this is not a must. Ekong has shockingly not played a minute of club football since after the AFCON which is a worry in its own. There is l a Kenneth Omeruo (who has also not played in the last five weeks) while Semi Ajayi, a regular at West Brom is also in there. Difficult to be in Eguavoen’s position but he must strive to arrive at the best solutions.
2. Do not play Iheanacho as 10
Super Eagles managers including Eguavoen (at the last AFCON) have consistently played Kelechi Iheanacho out of a wilful fantasy of him being the sweet playmaker and scorer at the 2013 Under 17 World Cup.
While his talent is never in doubt, which aids the occasional splash of brilliance from the Leicester City man, this nostalgic experiment has always tended to end in failure when the chips are down and such must be avoided especially in the away leg in Kumasi. If Iheanacho must start, then a system must be fashioned in which he does not have to be the bridge between midfield and attack.
3. Beware of the Rohr syndrome
Without beating about the bush, the Rohr syndrome is simply described as a phenomenon of ‘premeditated selection’. A situation where the coach draws out the players that will start games without recourse to the condition, form and attitude of players on and off the pitch while in camp.
There is always this excuse of time being short to try new things but that has never been enough as validation for encouraging laziness and contemptuous familiarity in the team.
With the Super Eagles having three full training sessions before the game, Eguavoen must keep his mind as open as possible while every invited player should be regarded as a potential starter, with the factors laid above as worthy parameters.
Nigeria Jollof should nick this derby.