COMMENT By Solace Chukwu Follow on Twitter
It'll be three days later till Nigeria kick off against Croatia, but the fact remains that it's already at the door. Yet, unlike one might expect, there remain a number of question marks around the Super Eagles squad.
World Cups are often considered the culmination of a cycle, four years of preparation building up to one month of execution. It wasn't until 2016, though, that Gernot Rohr came on board and kicked off his rebuild of the national side. As such, Nigeria has pretty much only had half the preparation time—it is understandable that it does not have everything figured out.
One such area where clarity seems to be lacking is in the centre-forward position.
Rohr largely favoured a 4-2-3-1 throughout qualifying, and while he has experimented with the team's shape in recent friendlies, that is arguably his most trusted scheme. The band of attacking midfielders is set in stone: John Obi Mikel is the captain and fulcrum, while Victor Moses and one of either Moses Simon or Alex Iwobi occupy the wide positions. But the identity of the standard bearer up top is in a bit of flux.
The recent friendlies against Poland and Serbia have sparked some concern, as the Super Eagles struggled mightily in attack, and only found the back of the net once in both games: a debatable penalty won and converted by talisman Moses.
With five goals in his last five games, should Crotone's Simy make @NGSuperEagles' World Cup squad?— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) May 4, 2018
While some of that can be explained by a more complex circumstance than simply the identity of the nominal striker, that sudden sense of uncertainty has led to a number of different candidates being thrown about for a late entrance into the World squad.
Enter Simeon Nwankwo, known simply as 'Simy'. The Crotone striker, at 25, has come into a rich vein of form in recent weeks, on target five times in his last five games to aid the Sharks' push to avoid relegation. It is inevitable, then, that his name has come up.
However, there are a few caveats, one of which is that his total tally isn't all that impressive.
He's scored six and assisted once in Serie A this term, and as stated earlier, five of them have inside the past month. It is worth noting, though, that for long periods, he was not involved to any great degree: he's only played 930 minutes of league football, and so is contributing to a goal about every 130 minutes. That's respectable enough.
It does raise two further concerns though, one of which is a germane debate on the merits of form leading into major tournaments.
It is something of a paradox: while consistency over an extended period is invariably a greater measure of a player's quality, form - especially on the eve of major tournaments - might be more useful, seeing as a World Cup only runs for a month.
So, do you favour a better player or a hotter one?
The other thing to consider is exactly why it is that a player capable of scoring five in five and infusing life into Crotone's survival push has been in the cooler for so long. To an extent, the answer to this also is the greatest caveat re:Simy - as a footballer, he is not particularly impressive.
His standout quality is his frankly ridiculous frame. He stands at 6ft 6in, and could conceivably be one of the tallest outfield players were he to make it to the World Cup. Naturally, such a profound advantage would make him a handful and a headache for defenders, if he weren't so painfully static.
There is a concern over how well he fits together with the rest of the team, and his shot numbers - averaging a measly 1.35 per game - do not suggest anything particularly earth-shaking. He is lacking in pace, can be clumsy with his footwork as well, and at 0.4 dribbles per game, he cannot be relied upon to carry the ball.
Indeed, one might say that the combination of Crotone's desperation, Simy's sheer size, and the chaos factor it can foment inside the box, may have been the tipping factors in his sudden return to the starting line-up.
Even held up against some of his competitors, he doesn't compare well. He lacks the work rate and hard, selfless running of Brown Ideye, the technical aptitude of Kelechi Iheanacho, or the finishing ability of Odion Ighalo. Tactically, he also does not fit the Super Eagles' counter-attacking style.
Stranger things have happened, of course, but in all, it is difficult to see just how exactly Simy's skillset aids the team in terms of goalscoring.