What we learned from Super Eagles friendlies

mikel-obi

Nigeria’s Super Eagles completed the double May friendlies against Poland and Serbia with mixed results: a win at Wroclaw against the Poles, and a loss at The Hive in London against the Serbs. Outside of the results however, there were certain things that were again underlined, and there were other things we learned…

The first is that Francis Uzoho is better than what we saw against Poland…and some will add the early moments of the game against Serbia. He was jittery against Poland, unsettled early against Serbia, and he made some elementary mistakes. But he settled into both games, and made crucial saves. While the jury is still out on the claim to the Number 1 shirt; he will get better.

It became glaring that the Eagles need a midfield creator, a player that can get past opponents, and find that crucial pass in the final third. The Nigerian lads pushed the ball around, but didn’t look like scoring. The cutting edge simply wasn’t there. Now, if Gernot Rohr and the NFF want to recruit a foreign born Nigerian, a creative midfielder will do just fine! But it became clear, that…

The Eagles can’t play without John Obi Mikel. Yep, it was again underlined that the 30 year old, 15-year veteran of many international wars is the fulcrum around which the Super Eagles revolve. The team looks clueless without Mikel, and as hard as Rohr and his team have been working, it’s beginning to look like their major strategy is ‘bring on Mikel’…

We also need the technical team to decide what formation they want the team to play, then practise, and hone it before the World Cup. The teams that surprise at major events; be it regional, continental, or global, usually play in a particular way. The idea of experimenting with the 4-4-1-1-, or 4-1-4-1 sounds nice, but it seems to be confusing the players. Let’s stick to a style that suits the players we have, and abandon this attempt to teach old dogs’ new tricks so close to the World Cup…

And that also means the Eagles need a winger or wingers. A team devoid of creative players can use speedy wingers to stretch and open up defences. The four players at the Serbian backline have a combined age of 125, and have played almost 50 years of football between them. Experienced? Yes, but our ‘young’ team should have run rings around them. It didn’t happen. Skilful wingers would (probably) have tested the backline more.

It also became more glaring that Ogenyi Onazi needs to take a back seat. No disrespect to the midfielder, but a team that has as many varieties in midfield as the Eagles should not have Onazi starting. The younger players have loads to learn from him, but he can do the mentoring from the bench. When Mikel, Etebo, Ndidi, and John Ogu are available, Onazi looks like the odd man out.

And finally, Kelechi Iheanacho’s form is worrying. The former Manchester City man, undoubtedly, is naturally gifted. He was touted as the man to be the creative hub of the Eagles, and was handed the chance to shine against Poland. He came up empty. They say ‘good players don’t become bad overnight’, and we believe that the outrageous talent ‘Kele’ displayed at the U17 World Cup, and at Man City, are buried somewhere, waiting to be exhumed.

Now, we know those matches were friendlies, and were meant to expose whatever flaws the Eagles may have. The biggest is that the bench is weak; teams with weak benches don’t go far at tournaments. The second 11 must be almost as good as the first; that is when ‘miracles’ happen.

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