By Sulaiman Alao:
WELL DONE ROHR, BUT WATCH IT
Following the Super Eagles victory over the Chipolopolo of Zambia last weekend, lots of commendation have been poured on the team and new coach Gernot Rohr. And while I agree that the German tactician justifiably deserved such credit, there is however, need to sound a note of warning and caution to the coach based on his match strategy in the game against Zambia.
Rohr fielded four outright forwards in the crucial away tie against Zambia with the quartet of Brown Ideye, Moses Simon, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho all getting starter’s shirts. Mikel Obi and Ogenyi Onazi were the two defensive midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 formation. While it was not a bad strategy against an inexperienced side like Zambia which the Eagles exploited early to get the two goals in the first half, one would have expected Rohr to revert to a more defensive formation earlier in the second half by making changes to kill off the game. But he left things late, a gamble which could have back-fired.
With two goals down already and with nothing more to lose, Zambia coach Wedson Nyirenda brought in midfielder Kondwani Mtonga to replace defender Adrian Chama in the 48 minutes and forward Jackson Mwanza for Winston Kalengo in the 56th minute. The changes spurred the Chipolopolos on as they poured forward and mounted ceaseless pressure on the Eagles which eventually got them a goal in the 71st minute when Collins Mbesuma made the most of a Kenneth Omeruo blunder to fire a low shot past Carl Ikeme. It was only then that Rohr was forced to make his first change by pulling out forward Brown Ideye and replacing him with midfielder Anderson Esiti in the 73rd minute. Even the second change which saw Moses Simon pulled off for Ahmed Musa was left till the 83rd minute – two minutes after Zambia had made their last change with forward Fwayo Tembo making way for Rodgers Kola in the 81st minute to press for elusive equalizer. Eagles the last change where Abdullahi Shehu came in for Ogenyi Onayi in the 92nd minute was inconsequential.
Rainford Kalaba terrorized the Eagles mostly from the right side of defence with Wilfred Ndidi caught napping several times, yet Rohr was content to keep him in the game all through. With a 2-goal cushion secured in the first half in a crucial away game, I had expected Rohr to slightly alter his game plan early in the second half by ringing changes that will switch the team’s formation to a more defensive approach, first to safeguard the two-goal lead and second, to frustrate the opponent and catch them on the counter if they poured out in search of reducing the lead or seeking an equalizer.
In the end, Nigeria deservedly got away with Rohr’s gamble against Zambia and we have goalkeeper Ikeme to thank for making a number of good saves. However, we might not be that lucky against more experienced teams like Algeria and Cameroon whom we still have to contend with to get to Russia. Rohr no doubt has started well but he really needs to watch it in subsequent games.
EAGLES IN GOOD START
The Super Eagles truly brought smiles on the faces of Nigerians last weekend following their sterling display that saw them beat host team, the Chipolopolo of Zambia 2-1 in Ndola. The Eagles couldn’t have started their qualification race for the 2018 World Cup on a better note with the crucial away victory which has firmly put Nigeria ahead on the Group B qualification table after rivals Algeria and Cameroon played out a 1-1 draw the same weekend.
The victory was commendable given the precarious preparation brought about by lack of funds the Eagles had prior to the game, but the players and the technical crew were able to put all that behind them to garner the maximum points right in front of the boastful Zambians. It is still early days in the qualification series and one hopes the NFF will work well ahead to ensure that issues of paucity funds don’t crop up again to distract the team. With President Muhammadu Buhari having to come to the team’s aid financially before they jetted out to Ndola last weekend, it won’t be out of place to put another Presidential Task Force in place now towards ensuring that lack of funds doesn’t derail Nigeria’s World Cup ambitions.
It is surprising that the NFF over the years has not been able to market the Eagles as a brand that will see corporate bodies fall over themselves to sponsor the team. Amaju Pinnick will do well to at least rectify this anomaly during his torrid tenure as NFF president. Landing the Eagles in Russia will help Nigerians forget all other disappointments we have suffered in recent times.
‘ENGLAND GANG’ PROVING TRUE
The ‘Eagles England Gang’ whom I wrote about a couple of weeks ago have begun to live up to expectations in the Eagles following the 2-1 win over Zambia in Ndola. This was corroborated by James Dutton of the Daily Mail who toed a similar conviction with myself in an article.
The victory over Zambia had the stamps of four members of the ‘England Gang’ as the quartet of Carl Ikeme, Mikel Obi, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho proved too good for the Chipolopolos. Aside the goals by Iwobi and Iheanacho, Mikel’s commanding display in the Eagles midfield cannot be overlooked while goalkeeper Ikeme’s heroics deservedly fetched him the Man of the Match award for a couple of vital saves which prevented the Zambians from getting any point from the game. Ahmed Musa only got to play a cameo role in the game.
It is heartwarming that Rohr has indicated his readiness to recall the trio of Odion Ighalo, Victor Moses and Isaac Success ahead of the home game against Algeria next month. Ighalo missed the Zambia tie having been excused to attend the burial of his father while Moses and Success opted out on account of injuries. With the NFF having also distanced itself from the earlier reports to ban the duo on alleged faking of injuries, it will do the country a whole lot of good to have the full compliments of the Eagles England Gang for the home tie against the Fennecs.
Let’s pray none of the players will again be bogged down by any injury.