Congratulations to the Super Eagles of Nigeria. They became the first team to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia with a game to go, when they defeated the Chipolopolo of Zambia 1-0 in Uyo on Saturday. We have learnt so much about the team in these qualifiers, but we learnt some more about the team, AND the coach, when Zambia came calling…
We confirmed that the team is not yet perfect, there is still work to be done. Of course all coaches will tell you there is no perfect team; there is always something to improve on. But we learnt that the big win against Cameroon was a “Christmas” game. It now looks like a one-off that may not happen often. The Eagles were comfortable against Cameroon, but the palpitations returned against Zambia.
Gernot Rohr is a good coach, he is not a great coach…yet. Truth be told, with the amount of talent available to anyone that gets the Eagles job, it should be stroll in the park. Zambia did their work of scouting the Eagles well, and came with a plan. Zambia and Cameroon were two different teams; Rohr should have created another plan, not dust up the one that worked against Cameroon.
We need to get Iheanacho to play in that ‘hole’ behind the striker. Mikel did well at Olympics and versus Cameroon, he failed to hack it against the faster Zambians. We have missed several chances to grow a creative player that can turn a game on its head; Iheanacho has the skill, we should utilize it.
The use of wide players as a different option, is a must. We either get old fashioned wingers, or find good wingbacks. Shehu Abdullahi and Echejile look suspect, and they have been for a while, Ola Aina looked good when he came on, maybe he is the future. A creative 10 and good wingers/wing-backs gives the coach different options.
We need to either inject pace into our game, or develop a style to counter speedy teams. Zambia identified lack of speed as our weakness, and they used that knowledge well. We won the game, some will argue it could have gone awry, just like the first leg, and they would be correct.
Finally, Gernot Rohr doesn’t need to explain his team selections and substitutions; and although the saying is ‘you don’t change a winning team’, but surely, he knows well enough to go with those things that helped saved the situation when things almost went awry? Oghenekaro Etebo and John Ogu have proved themselves in the past, and have been massive for Nigeria. Is there a reason they can’t seem to get a game now?
Zambia is an example of what teams at the World Cup will do: research your team and come up with a counter. If the NFF wants the Eagles to go further than they have ever done at the competition, then the team must be tweaked. The Eagles, as they are now, are built for a first round exit.