COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
Heading into this weekend's crucial qualifier against South Africa, Gernot Rohr faces a number of decisions regarding his playing personnel and his strategy for the Super Eagles.
A rash of injuries have injected a fair bit of entropy into what is usually a straightforward selection. Most notably, lead striker Odion Ighalo is out, and with his club Changchun Yatai being relegated to the second tier in China, his incumbency in the team might need to be evaluated anyway.
Captain John Obi Mikel is also missing, although just how much of a miss it will be, in light of the fact he has not appeared for the national team since the World Cup, is another matter. With Wilfred Ndidi also set to miss out due to suspension, the middle of the park will experience the most upheaval, and the lack of familiarity is mildly concerning.
The defence is largely settled, although the continued lack of minutes for stalwart Leon Balogun is a worry that has led to calls for him to be dropped.
The obvious replacement for Ighalo, based on national team pedigree, would be Kelechi Iheanacho.
However, it was instructive that when Rohr took off Ighalo in the first leg against Libya, it was Isaac Success, the powerful Watford striker, who came on in his stead.
Iheanacho's relevance seems to have dropped in recent times, and his viability for the role of lone frontman is questionable. When Rohr used him against Seychelles, it was as part of a two upfront, a configuration he is unlikely to repeat against sterner opposition like South Africa.
Victor Osimhen is another variable in the mix, although his is more of an outside shot.
It would seem that Success is in pole position, and rightly so. This is perhaps as good an opportunity as he is likely to get, however, to establish himself in the national side.
The dropping of Ogenyi Onazi is arguably long overdue. However, Ndidi's suspension means a big change is on the cards.
Oghenekaro Etebo has filled in manfully over the last two games, albeit without being especially suited to the role, and is expected to continue here. The uncertainty is over who partners him.
The obvious answer would be John Ogu, whose greater depth of experience would suit a game of this magnitude. His calm on the ball and incisive distribution would also dovetail well with Etebo's ball-carrying ability.
However, with Rohr seeming to favour mobility deep in midfield (even if that means losing precision and control), there is a good chance that returnee Mikel Agu will get the nod. On loan at Vitoria de Setubal, the Rohr favourite seems to have found a semblance of consistency and good form, and if there's one thing we know about the German coach, it is that he is loyal to his favourites.
This is perhaps the most settled part of the team: Jamilu Collins, Ola Aina and William Troost-Ekong will all start. The question is: who rounds out the back four?
It is Balogun's spot to lose, but bench duty at Brighton has strengthened Kenneth Omeruo's case to start here.
Wrote this about two weeks ago. Since then, the call for Leon Balogun to be dropped and Kenneth Omeruo to be plugged in has only intensified.
Will try to address why (I think) this is not a good idea in the short term. https://t.co/5soeDcGazn — Solace Chukwu (@TheOddSolace) November 12, 2018
His loan move to Leganes in the summer has done Omeruo a world of good, and he has shone as part of a miserly back three.
If Rohr elects to reward form, then there can be no doubt who should get the nod. However, it would be too much of a change to upset a longstanding partnership on the eve of a major game. It is probably best that Balogun keep his place.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of the World Cup is the return to prominence of Ahmed Musa. He will almost certainly retain his place here.
The right flank, though, is a bit of a toss-up.
Samuel Kalu started there in both legs against Libya last month, but did not particularly impress in either outing: in Uyo, his errant decision-making was only partly assuaged by his eventual goal, while his lack of positional discipline hurt the team defensively in the away leg in Sfax.
Rohr may be tempted to hand a surprise international debut, from the start, to Villarreal wonderkid Samuel Chukwueze. The 19-year-old has a wand of a left foot, is positive and daring, and can cut inside from the right to shoot.
However, the more realistic proposition is that Kalu keeps his place, with a charge to simplify his game. Alternatively, Musa could move over to the right, with Henry Onyekuru coming in on the left.