So it is done. The chosen 23 have been selected and Nigeria has a confirmed squad for the World Cup in Russia. To be fair, not many people should be surprised at the names that were released. You could make cases for Agu and Aina who were dropped but let’s be real; those guys were the obvious choices for elimination. Aina is good but he clearly hasn’t adjusted to international football. For Idowu (who just showed up) to be in the side ahead of him speaks volumes about how Rohr feels about Aina. As for Agu…well…let’s not act like he’s better than the other guys. In a tournament that requires guts and bravery (in addition to skill and talent), Agu is just one tidy player too many; hence the inclusion of Joel Obi ahead of him.
But let’s have a look at those that made the trip to Russia. We have 3 goalkeepers, 6 defenders, 6 midfielders and 6 strikers. It looks well balanced and I have to give credit to Rohr for going with his gut in choosing certain players. When asked about choosing Simeon Nwankwo, he simply stated that Nigeria ‘doesn’t have a player like him’. Whatever that means, we’ll find out soon enough. Onazi, even with that abject performance against England, still makes the cut while Joel Obi earns his chance after a long time away from the set-up.
Even with the abundance of options in goal (remember that Alampasu and Ajiboye missed out), I’m very worried about the goalkeepers we have. Ezenwa would be the safe option as he has gained a lot of experience from being part of the squad that sealed World Cup qualification. However, this tournament is a huge step up for him and while I expect him to give his best, I’m scared that we could see some real howlers from him this summer. I strongly think that this tournament has the potential to break him as a player and as a person. Uzoho has shown he is willing (if not necessarily ready) to make the step-up and I applaud that. But he’s so young, has played a handful of caps, and did you see that attempt to save Kane’s shot that STILL went in? Nigeria doesn’t need this kind of gamble. The stress levels will be too high, for ALL of us. Akpeyi, in my opinion, is only on the plane because he accepted (unlike the others who were dropped) that he probably won’t play (I hope he doesn’t). FIFA asked for 3 goalies right? There you go.
The defence is the only part of the team that I have any faith in. The ‘Oyinbo’ boys (Ekong and Balogun) have done extremely well as a duo and they look like they can take on any strikeforce. Strong, quick, and intelligent in their marking and positioning, these guys are good at what they’re asked to do: defend. They are the ones, in my opinion, that everyone will be talking about after the tournament. The full-backs are just as good. Shehu and Ebuechi are two different, but equally effective, right-backs. While Shehu is more rugged and more energetic, Ebuechi has more technical and has a bit of flair. Those are good options to have. Same on the left with Echejile and Idowu; Echejile is the more adventurous one while Idowu keeps it simple but practical. It looks good at the back.
In the midfield, the options are good but how they’ll be used is where the difference (between drawing and losing…don’t get your hopes up) will lie. Mikel has to be surrounded with energy; Etebo and Ndidi come to mind in that regard, while John Ogu (who is officially the most underutilized player in the history of Nigerian sport…look at how he fitted in a back three) could easily fulfill the Mikel role and be flanked by Joel Obi and Onazi (ok that sounds like a calamitous combo though…but we’re doomed anyway so…).
Finally in attack, we have Ighalo who is the man spearheading our strikeforce…sadly. He will struggle to score in Russia so let’s not even start to hope for miracles. The real work therefore has to belong to Iwobi and Moses who have to create the chances for Ighalo to put away. The problem is that they will be tracked by every defender on the pitch, plus they will spend a lot of time defending so where are the assists going to come from? The likes of Iheanacho and Nwankwo have to be given chances when things are not going well. In fact, I expect every attacker to be used, because Nigeria needs all the firepower it can get.
Look, let me tell you something. This squad, for all our optimism, is NOT good enough. We have not replaced Enyeama well enough and Ikeme’s illness came at the worst possible timing. The Super Eagles have a soft centre that will exploited to bits by the likes of Argentina, Croatia and even Iceland (yes, those guys can beat the shite out of us). Sloppy play, lack of concentration, and questionable decision-making are elements that have always plagued Nigeria and those elements will be evident in Russia. Look, if you’re expecting Nigeria to pull up any trees this summer, you better have your doctor on standby; because you’re already putting your health on the line.