By Solace Chukwu
The Super Eagles play their final warm-up game against the United States in Florida tonight. With the opener against Iran just nine days away, here are five things we do not want to see from tonight’s encounter.
More injury casualties.
This one pretty much writes itself. Within the last 24 hours, Marco Reus, Roman Shirokov and Franck Ribery have all been ruled out of the World Cup through injury. At this rate, the champions may be decided by which of the 32 has the fewest casualties!
Elderson Echiejile limped off against Greece with what looked like a hamstring problem, and the latest news suggests Kenneth Omeruo and Ahmed Musa may also sit out tonight’s friendly. It is a huge relief that the spine of Vincent Enyeama, Godfrey Oboabona, John Obi Mikel and Emmanuel Emenike has stayed healthy so far. For the sake of Nigeria’s chances at the Mundial, let us hope there are no more injuries.
Efe Ambrose at left-back
The Celtic man is making a name for himself as Nigeria’s Mr. Versatility. It was he who filled in at left-back when Elderson was taken off against Greece, and performed admirably. It must be noted though that he had a lot less defensive work to get through in the second period as the Super Eagles’ began to click into gear further up the pitch.
For tonight’s friendly however, the team would be better served having Ashdod’s Juwon Oshaniwa actually start a game. His absence to this point has been explained away by malaria, but he is back to fitness and must start. It would beggar belief to go into the World Cup carrying along a back-up left-back with no game-time under his belt. God forbid then that Elderson pulls up against Bosnia-Herzegovina yet again.
If Oshaniwa does not get a run-out, one would be tempted to ask what the point of him in the squad is to begin with.
Odemwingie as a no.10
Look, let us accept the limitations of this crop of Super Eagles. There have no creative maverick a la Jay Jay Okocha to play in the ‘ten-space’ behind the forward.
It is no real indictment of our football: Chile has not replaced the prolific duo of Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas since 1998 either, Italy have no Francesco Totti or Alessandro del Piero clone this time around, and France have not anointed an heir to Zinedine Zidane. Some players come along once in a lifetime, and to expect them to be a template would detract from their genius.
That is why there are different playing systems. Tactics exist to maximise areas of strength and ameliorate weaknesses. No more of this experiment with Osaze Odemwingie as an ersatz attacking midfielder. It is not his game, and does not play to his strengths. Plant him on the wing and let him do his thing: pace, flair and goal-threat. If you insist on someone in the area behind the main-striker, then Michael Uchebo or even Victor Moses would be a more plausible fit.
Emenike static again
It is a nigh-on impossible feat to get Nigerians to forget about Ikechukwu Uche, but props must go the Emenike for trying. His contribution to the Super Eagles under Stephen Keshi has been immense, replete with several important goals.
That said, as the game against Greece wore on, Emenike became increasingly anonymous. The reason is not hard to divine: there is a Brown Ideye-shaped hole in the forward line. The Dynamo Kiev is a favourite of few, even this writer called for his exclusion. That said, his presence allowed Emenike greater freedom to roam, and made him more effective.
For his size, Emenike is really not about battling giant, muscle-bound centre-backs. Indeed, he has a tendency to go down a little too easily under pressure, preferring instead to drift out to the right flank. In this zone, he is able to make use of his surprising acceleration to get the better of full-backs.
It is arguable that, strictly as a poacher, Uche Nwofor is much better. What Keshi must do is get Emenike someone to dovetail with. Perhaps, with Odemwingie on the right wing and swapping positions constantly with Emenike, we will get a glimpse of our Afcon hero once again.
A re-run of the Greece first half showing
There is no ducking this: the Super Eagles looked bedraggled against Greece in the first-period. The Greeks pressed and harried with the belligerence of the mythical Achilles, and the team were timid and uncoordinated.
We cannot have more of that.
Keshi will look to get a more assertive performance, a more cohesive unit in the attacking third and less hesitancy in the defence. Skipper Joseph Yobo looks set to start again, and if nothing else the team will benefit from the marshalling of the experienced defender. The double pivot of Ogenyi Onazi and Mikel will do well to offer more mobility and daring, and failing that, there is young Ramon Azeez on the bench chomping at the bit.
More speed, quicker passing, better ball retention and decision-making for me, thank you.