Sports

Beyond the FIFA window friendlies in Austria

It was great to see Eagles regroup again with the two friendly matches the senior national team played in Austria during the week. The Nigeria Football Federation did well to ensure the players came together to tune up for the Africa Nations Cup qualifiers billed to take place in November.

The outbreak of Coronavirus across the world early this year crippled so many programmes and so it was important that Eagles were part of the FIFA window to prepare for the back-to-back AFCON games scheduled to take place between November 9 and 17 against Sierra Leone. Top players like Victor Osimhen, Ogenekaro Etebo, Wilfred Ndidi were ruled out of the friendlies for various legitimate reasons.

The absence of two key midfielders reflected in the two games while Osimhen’s absence was also felt. Rohr’s invitation of new names was good but injecting about four of them for the first match against Algeria affected the flow. Former U-17 captain, Samson Tijani, was one of the surprise call-ups along with Portugal-based wing-back Saidu Sanusi, Frank Onyeka (FC Midtjylland, Denmark), Chidera Ejike (CSKA Moscow) and Matthew Yakubu of SKF Sered, Slovakia.

Left back, Sanusi, was a revelation in Austria. He was strong and mobile with consistent moves upfront. Onyeka was below average while Tijani showed flashes of brilliance within the short time he had.

The encounter against Algeria was the most crucial test as it exposed the weaknesses in the technical crew and the team in general. Algeria as the AFCON defending champions and number one team on the continent deserve respect but one expected the technical crew to change tactics along the line to make the match difficult for the NorthA fricans. The Eagles were no threat to Algeria in the match and it was the brilliance of Maduka Okoye that ensured the result stood at 1-0 at full-time.

The team lacked pattern and one wonders what Rohr has done in four years. Paul Onuachu was the top striker and the wingers – Samuel Chukwueze and Samuel Kalu – failed to cross the ball for him to get goals. The dribbling style from the wings did not work for Onuachu.

As brilliant as Chukwueze is, his final ball after his runs were poor. Leon Balogun, staging a return to the team, was fantastic in the two games. He was calm and he motivated attack with intelligent runs from the rear.

He combined well with William Troost-Ekong against Algeria and also did fine with Kenneth Omeruo in the match against Tunisia. Omeruo was poor in the 1-1 draw as his sluggishness led to the equaliser. Another returnee, Kelechi Iheanacho, was sharp as a substitute in the first match and in the second, he was very brilliant not only because of the good goal he scored but for being a persistent threat to the Carthage Eagles all through. Alex Iwobi, Semi Ajayi and Moses Simon were just average in the two games while skipper Ahmed Musa was clearly a minus for the team. Okoye and Balogun were consistent in the two games.

Chukwueze was also good but could have done better. Going forward, the impact of new assistant coach Joseph Yobo should be felt with the defence line of the Eagles while there is need for a good back-up for Osimhen. Iheanacho can only play better behind a striker not as the top man. In four years, Rohr has managed to deliver good results for Nigeria but no consistent playing pattern for the team. He rings changes anyhow and insists on ‘rebuilding’.

The team should be solid by now with new players coming in to challenge for places. Mikel Agu and Ajayi did not prove to be a good back up for the midfield. In the two games, the approach looked like a no striker situation and false nine style. Onuachu was more useful in the defence than the attack.

Nigeria is blessed with huge talents in the round leather game but to deploy them appropriately to suit their respective capabilities and standard is the problem with Rohr and his crew. The results Rohr posted so far are commendable overall but the quality of play of the Super Eagles must be better.

The coach should also read the game better with his assistants. Today, with the Nigerian football talents scattered across the world, the country should be number one on the continent and among the best in the world. There should better planning and motivation from the NFF such that the players would be eager and more determined to do Nigeria proud.

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