Gernot Rohr may have stumbled on the formula to deliver the Semi-Final ticket he promised the Super Eagles when they line up with the rest of the world at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, after the thrashing they handed to theAlbiceleste of Argentina in a friendly international on Tuesday. Here are the things we learnt from that game;
The Eagles will need discipline and organization: The Eagles are likely to come up against teams with better players, better benches and more experienced coaches at some stage. They can trump that with good organization and discipline. When players stay in position and keep their shape, it makes it easier for them to defend their turf. Argentina scored twice in the first half because the Eagles lost their shape for a minute. And that has been the story; momentary lapses leading to costly goals.
They must learn to use dead-balls and set pieces: When opponents are superior in technique and skill, the less gifted must use every other means available. Kelechi Iheanacho’s free kick goal allowed Eagles back in the game at Krasnodar, even with the Argies seemingly in control. That’s what dead balls can do for you! Then, they must find a way to get goals from corner-kicks…our giant center backs need goal scoring skills. That’s why the likes of Uche Okechukwu, John Terry and Sergio Ramos are valuable.
NFF must allow Rohr be fearless: This is crucial. Nigerian officials put too much pressure on coaches, especially during major tournaments. Gernot Rohr started the game with players he was familiar with, used a five-man defense, (arguably with two wing-backs) and sealed it up with two defensive midfielders. With the Argies leading 2-1, he unshackled the boys. Brian Idowu and Tyron Ebuehi replaced Ola Aina and Shehu Abdullahi. Both presented better options as wing backs. Rohr took a risk, he (maybe) would never have done that in an official game. That is the reason some players still get invites today…fear of the unknown.
Mikel must be protected, he holds the key: That is a truth that becomes more glaring each passing day. John Obi Mikel is the glue that holds this team together. His ball-holding skills, pass-reading ability, and passing skills – which is the spring board for many attacks – are currently unmatched by any player. He dictates play, and when he’s absent, it usually is chaotic.
Finally, the Eagles must run. When the boys started running into space, interchanging places, and switching between one-two and long passes, they were a joy to watch. At some point, they looked like the Eagles team that took Bulgaria to the cleaners at US ’94. Rohr must find a way to replicate that in every game; they have it in them, he just needs to tap into it.
Major question: Is the troika of Mikel, Wilfred Ndidi and John Ogu the best midfield combo for the Eagles, or will they work better with a back four, and Mikel sitting at the base of a diamond, with Iheanacho at the tip? Topic for another day.