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Africa Cup of Nations

Afcon 2019: Gernot Rohr misses chance to unveil Super Eagles' future

18:16 IST 02/07/2019
Gernot Rohr
The German's reluctance to give his young bucks a run out was ultimately a misjudgment against Madagascar

Every now and again, football serves up a shock so unprecedented, and yet so utterly explicable, that one cannot help but laugh.

Sunday was one of those days: Madagascar’s most famous victory in their history coming against a hodgepodge of a Nigerian side caught between two stools with its pants down.

Step back and view the bigger picture, and it is not outrageous that, having secured qualification, a team might elect to keep some of its best players back and so get rocked.

The debate about the benefit of that added rest is one that comes down to health versus rhythm. In some ways, however, it can betray an air of presumption, and can be indicative of one of tournament football's cardinal sins: not taking each game as it comes.

That said, whatever side of the argument one comes down on, there can be no half measures: either rest all of your best players and give the fringe players are run, or play your strongest side. With the former, you retain freshness, with the latter you build cohesion.

Considering that, when Gernot Rohr named his final 23 for the Africa Cup of Nations, it was generally accepted there was nothing unforeseen, there cannot have been concerns about the ability of the group to function together. The German is nothing if not loyal, and has rarely wavered from a core group.

Instead, the final Group B encounter ought to have presented an opportunity to glimpse the future; to wrap the first-choice team in wool while letting the likes of Victor Osimhen, Henry Onyekuru and Samuel Chukwueze a chance to stretch their legs, and wings.

What came out of the tunnel in Alexandria however was neither fish nor fowl, but some weird chimera; five changes removed from the previous game but still wafting a stale stench about the place.

Worse still, in a theme that has been repeated in Rohr's decision-making, there was no coherence to the logic. Daniel Akpeyi, not being an outfielder, was certainly not dropped for his exertions. As such, bringing in Ikechukwu Ezenwa was simply making a change for its own sake. Yet, if that was a valid motivation, why was Ahmed Musa selected, despite the fact that he was at risk of a suspension for the Round of 16 and with Onyekuru yet to play a single minute?

The same could be asked of the inclusion of Odion Ighalo and the selection of Samuel Kalu, whose status as something of a teacher’s pet is now being borne out by Rohr’s determination to play him at every turn. Lest we forget, only nine days ago he was rushed to hospital amid genuine fears he would miss the competition altogether.

What such a game offered was the chance to let the young bucks loose, to roam wild and free and scare Madagascar out of their wits.

Where the play was stilted and slow, and many a pass was interred at the feet of the front three, the attack would have benefitted from the less predictable movement of Osimhen, Onyekuru and Chukwueze upfront.

A tangential benefit would have been to distract from the tedium that had characterized the Super Eagles’ play in the opening two games.

Instead, it was made all too clear just how much work this team has to do still, and how far from anything finished or remotely refined the group that Rohr has put together is.

It had the feel of new wine in old wineskins, and as Leon Balogun stumbled early on, it all came bursting apart at the seams for the Super Eagles.