Nigeria’s Super Eagles drew 1-1 with Congo Democratic Republic on Monday in their last feel of a pitch on the African continent before they move to Europe en-route to the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.
Everything surrounding the game was put under intense scrutiny with questions left unanswered about the purpose, the venue (a soggy, dangerous turf for World Cup bound players) and the selection for the game.
It turned out that the thinking of many regarding the game and would-be selection was never in congruent with the manager Gernot Rohr’s plans. In the midst of all the rowdiness, we were still able to bring home some things going into the crucial World Cup preparation period.
1. Uzoho is getting there
In my mind and perhaps that of the coach, Francis Uzoho has long been confirmed as Nigeria’s first choice at the Mundial regardless of some expected nervousness during the March friendlies in Poland and London.
The coach seemingly acknowledges that; for a third division player, he needs more high profile games and although Monday’s kick-about cannot be regarded as such, it still afforded him some opportunity to play with the core defensive back-line.
Uzoho displaying an array of goalkeeping assets. Unflappable,solid grip, quick off his line, decent shot stopping and most importantly, a real sense of calm. He is probably where Enyeama was at Korea/Japan 2002 World Cup & see the great career that kickstarted?
— Babanla (@biolakazeem) May 28, 2018
Uzoho made a couple of fine saves during the game and was able to earn some more confidence from Nigerians. His ability to play comfortably with both feet also provides him an added asset as his defenders can elect to pass to him from anywhere and at any time especially in times of trouble.
2. Welcome to Russia Mr Simy Nwankwo
When Rohr stated after the March friendlies that he was looking for a ‘battering ram’, nobody knew a lanky gentle man from Anambra state, South East Nigeria would surface from the Italian Serie A. From the moment he scored a spectacular overhead kick against Juventus, he never looked back, following it up with five more goals between April and May.
For those that might have seen the team train in Uyo, we were virtually convinced he is the missing link in the team. We felt he had Russia in his pockets. Let me confide in you: I walked up to Mr Nwankwo after Saturday morning’s training, looked up to the towering figure and told him I had a dream that I interviewed him in Russia. So, save the face and the medium ahead of that. He laughed and thanked me as he rushed into the Eagles bus.
He took just over three minutes in the game on Monday to show his qualities. The Crotone star (I expect that to change after the World Cup) received a good pass from Ogenyi Onazi, decisioned his marker and shot on his weaker foot onto the cross bar. He later had a header superbly saved by the Congolese goalkeeper and in all, his positioning, hold-up play and overall understanding with teammates were not bad. Once again I say: Welcome to Russia!
3. What do we do with Joel Obi and Mikel Agu
Going by what Rohr disclosed during last Friday’s media parley in Uyo, it is expected that he goes to Russia with two players in each position. That might have informed Joel Obi and Mikel Agu playing forty-five minutes apiece on Monday night.
— ACLSports (@acl_sports) May 28, 2018
Obi’s return to the national team has not been as fulfilling as what the footballing prophets told. He had a decent start to the Poland game in Wroclaw before fizzling out, and then a largely uncoordinated outing at The Hive against Serbia. Monday was meant to be a time to “watch them again and again” like Rohr said, with respect to those outside his “Chosen 20”.
He was lost for most periods on Monday night and there was a palpable lack of movement in the midfield which often led to Leon Balogun and Troost-Ekong carrying the ball to the half way line and trying to connect the attackers by themselves.
This changed in the second half when Agu came on, perhaps the entry of Alex Iwobi also helped more but the Bursaspor man edged it with his articulation.
What will now happen to these two? Who drops from the party? Can we afford both players in Russia, I honestly don’t think so. Mr Rohr, over to you.
We will appreciate it if we can have what you think about these points in the comments section.