By Nurudeen Obalola:
SIASIA’S MANY TOUGH DECISIONS AS HE FACES EGYPT
As I’m writing this, I’m imagining myself in Samson Siasia’s shoes.
While I would definitely not mind being paid the millions he gets paid every month in salaries, allowances and bonuses (when he does get paid by the NFF), I wouldn’t want to face some of the tough decisions he will be facing right now.
Siasia might be Super Eagles coach just on an interim basis, but he must get things right.
It is his second shot at redemption after the pains of failing to lead the team to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, and he has to get his tactics and selection right.
The only acceptable result against Egypt this Friday evening in Kaduna is a win, even as everyone knows the North Africans are not going to just roll over and accept defeat.
So Siasia, obviously eager to win and put himself in the frame for the job on a permanent basis, must right now be wondering if the approach he has settled on is the winning one, or if the team he has picked is the right one.
Is it preferable to go on the attack from the off to unsettle the Egyptians? Or why not be patient, draw them out of their shells and then pounce from around the hour mark?
What formation is the best to deal with Egypt’s expansive, speedy football? Should it be a cautious 4-5-1 to take control of the midfield? Or an open 4-4-2 to keep the pressure on the Egyptians from the wings? Or a 4-3-3 with the three forwards seamlessly interchanging positions?
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
And it does not end there.
Siasia has to somehow keep out the freescoring Egyptians with a patched-up defence. The Nigeria coach has been shorn of the services of regular defenders Kenneth Omeruo and Leon Balogun through suspension and injury.
So who pairs Godfrey Oboabona in central defence? If it’s Efe Ambrose, who then plays right-back? Does vastly experienced Elderson Echiejile keep his place at left-back or does Siasia go with his U-23 favourite Stanley Amuzie?
Where does Mikel Obi play in midfield? Will Siasia retain him in the deep role he plays at Chelsea or deploy him further forward like at the 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup?
How about the attack? Will Odion Ighalo play as a lone striker in a 4-5-1? Or will he be paired with Fanendo Adi in a 4-4-2?
If Siasia goes 4-3-3, who will be the wide forwards to complement Ighalo among Kelechi Iheanacho, Moses Simon, Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi and Ahmed Musa?
Who will play the No10 role if it is not given to Mikel?
How many home-based players will start and how many will be in the matchday squad?
What will be the strategy with Iwobi as England lurk? Will the Arsenal teenager be given minutes to tie him down to Nigeria even if the Eagles are hanging on and would rather make a defensive change late on?
Siasia has loads of tough calls to make this Friday and next Tuesday. It’s all on him whatever happens, the buck stops at his table; so he has to get everything right.
If he can’t score a perfect 10, he must get at least eight out of 10.
A perfect 10 would be getting the mix of youth and experience right, beating Egypt while playing attractive football, and capping Iwobi to keep the teenager from the clutches of England.
An eight would be beating Egypt anyhow and somehow finding some minutes for Iwobi.
Maybe a seven would be acceptable, that is playing badly but winning, even if it’s through an added time winner off the backside of Ighalo.
The task before Siasia is not an easy one. Apart from his pay, I don’t envy the man and the enormous pressure that comes with his position.
SUPER EAGLES BETTER WATCH OUT FOR TANZANIA
While the Super Eagles have been busy worrying about how to catch up with Egypt and nick Group G’s sole guaranteed ticket to the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, Tanzania have sneaked up on them.
If the Eagles did not realise how important it was to win against Egypt, they surely now do with the Taifa Stars now clearly in their (Nigeria’s) rearview mirror.
Tanzania’s win over Chad on Wednesday means Nigeria must beat Egypt on Friday to stay well clear of the East Africans.
Now tied on four points with Tanzania, the match in Kaduna serves as Nigeria’s game in hand. A game in hand that must now be won if the Eagles don’t want to keep looking over their shoulders.
Chad have lost all their three matches in the qualifiers so far, so they will be expected to lose again to Tanzania when they meet next week.
If Tanzania win again, they will end this round of games with seven points from four matches. The Super Eagles currently have four from two matches and therefore need at least four from the two matches against Egypt not only to upstage the Pharaohs, but to also hold off Tanzania.
Anyway, whatever the outcome of the next few games, Tanzania have got themselves in the mix and the race has just got that little bit more exciting.
CONGRATULATIONS, CAPTAIN MIKEL OBI
Mikel Obi has looked like Super Eagles captain material for a few years.
Even if his discipline and performances sometimes can be questioned, he always looked like a leader on the pitch and his colleagues always had serious respect for him.
Apparently, playing for a big club like Chelsea for such a long time counts, and he has been in the senior Nigeria squad for 10 unbroken years.
Right now, he is the most experienced Super Eagles player around and it is fitting that he has finally been named captain.
He looked odds-on favourite to be captain after Vincent Enyeama, but the controversy surrounding the Lille goalkeeper’s exit from the national team and Sunday Oliseh’s preference for an easygoing, not headstrong player meant Ahmed Musa was given the armband.
Mikel handled the situation perfectly when he was overlooked for the captaincy and Musa has also been very gracious as he let go of the armband after his short tenure.
Some insist that Musa should never have been captain but I believe it is up to the head coach to determine who captains the team. Most of us don’t know what goes on behind the scenes that informs some of the decisions coaches take.
The good news to Nigerian sportswriters is that the normally reticent Mikel will now, as captain, have to speak with reporters regularly.
Hopefully, Mikel’s tenure will see Nigeria qualify for the Nations Cup.