The Nigerian coach, Gernot Rohr, last Monday made public the provisional list of 30 players from where he will eventually select a -23 man team that will represent the country at the Russia 2018 World Cup finals. By all standards, and employing all available records, the list is both complete and comprehensive, as it captured what followers of global football from the Nigerian perspective will agree is our best at the moment.
Simply put, there are no surprises. The 30 players are the best any student of the national team can come up, as it stands today. In other words, these are our best legs. But how best is this best on a global scale like the World Cup? Perhaps, what should preoccupy our minds is how the Rohr-led Super Eagles’ technical crew would be able to transform and translate ‘this best team’ into a winning side that can rock the boat; given the huge challenges the team will face at the World Cup in Russia.
This is so because, on paper, the present Super Eagles team is just like a primary pupil going to face a university graduate in an interview for a professional job. That is, comparing the Nigerians head-to-head with the Argentine or Croatian squads based on quality of players and current forms. Truth be told, this Russia-bound team, cannot be compared with USA’94 squad. Be that as it may, we all know that football does not normally follow straightjacket arithmetical formula. Otherwise, who would have believed that Levante, a team that narrowly escaped relegation, would beat Barcelona 5-4 and by so doing truncated Barca’s dream of going a whole La Liga season unbeaten.
Undoubtedly, the challenge is how Rohr would fashion out a pattern that will psyche up the Nigerian boys into a formidable side as they face some of the best players in the world in the group games. It’s possible Nigeria, regarded as the underdogs along with Iceland can spring a surprise by taking the fight to the doorsteps of some of the world bests in Argentina and Croatia. For instance, Luka
Modric of Real Madrid is certainly, one of the gifted players in the world today. He has been described by renowned television commentators as visionary and technically sublime, a captain who is also the ultimate playmaker for Croatia. It is not in doubt that Croatia parades some of the best midfielders in modern football.
Besides Modric, there is another Madrid midfield maestro in Mateo Kovacic, just as Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic are all poised to teach our Eagles some soccer lessons.
When you now remember there are still upfront, daring strikers like Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic, Milan’s Nikola Kalinic and
Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric, you then understand the point I am making. Frighteningly, we must equally remember that Croatia crushed Spain at Euro 2016 and so, do not suffer from any form of inferiority complex against Nigeria or any other team in the group. But as earlier stated, in football many factors may come to bear on match day if Rohr and his boys are able to do the needful by not allowing intimidation to unsettle them.
Similarly, Argentina is equally blessed with world-class players like Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano, Di Maria, Higuain, Aguero, Paulo and the highly dreaded and arguably the best player on the planet earth, Lionel Messi. There is even little considered Angel Correa, who will most likely be main man doing the damage up front while attention is on Messi and the other older players. Let’s look at Nigeria’s provisional list: Goalkeepers; Ezenwa, Daniel Akpeyi, Francis Uzoho, Dele Ajiboye. Defenders;
William Ekong, Leon Balogun, Ola Aina, Kenneth Omeruo, Bryan Idowu, Chidozie Awaziem, Abdulahi Shehu, Elderson Echiejile, Tronne Ebuehi, Stephen Eze. Midfielders; Mikel John Obi, Ogenyi Onazi, John Ogu, Wilfred Ndidi, Uche Agbo, Oghenekaro Etebo, Joel Obi, Mikel Agu. Forwards; Odion Ighalo, Ahmed Musa, Victor
Moses, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho, Moses Simon, Junior Lokosa and Simeon Nwankwo.
It does not require a rocket science to know those who will eventually meet the final squad, bearing any unforeseen circumstances. In all, Nigerians expect Rohr to remain focused and avoid any form of external influence as revealed by NFF President.
Resist the temptation of fielding players based on club or name. Regrettably, injuries are threatening the team. The most combative midfielder in the team, Wilfred Ndidi is just recovering from a hamstring injury, Torino’s Joel Obi, Mainz 05 defender, Leon Balogun and ADO is Den Haag’s wing-back, Tyronne Ebuehi are also battling for fitness.
These players should make the team provided fitness and performance during the camping period determine the final list. No player no matter how good in previous games should make the trip to Russia half-fit.
Moreover, Rohr should also work on the creativity of the team going forward. This is where Croatia and Argentina have most advantage of the games the team had played in recent past, the Super Eagles never showed cohesion and the required pace upfront. The resilience of the Nigerian will surely come to play if the Super Eagles are to make any impact in Russia. Till next week, keep attacking.