Nigeria vs Lesotho
After claiming top spot with Saturday’s 1-0 win in Benin, the Super Eagles play host to Lesotho in the final group game with little to play for.
Be that as it may, Gernot Rohr’s troops will want to end the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers on a high, which would see them end the series unbeaten.
While many will tag Tuesday’s encounter as a meaningless affair, the following elements could determine who comes out on top in Lagos.
Potential switch between the sticks
With qualification to the continental showpiece now assured, Gernot Rohr may opt to reinstate Francis Uzoho into the XI despite Maduka Okoye’s decent-to-good showings between the sticks.
Given that the Sparta Rotterdam goalkeeper has fared relatively well and developed a certain level of understanding with his teammates, restoring the 22-year-old goalie possibly hampers that connection between Okoye and his defence.
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Dealing with long balls, crosses and counter attacks
There was a concerted effort by Benin to send straight or arching balls behind the defence on Saturday which was mostly dealt with but for one occasion where Steve Mounie nearly exploited the indecision between Okoye and William Troost-Ekong.
The Benin forward also tested the Nigeria goalkeeper with his headed effort around the hour and the Super Eagles’ defence will need to be first to crosses and second balls against Lesotho.
Rohr’s team were largely untroubled with Benin’s counter-attacks — Ola Aina and Zaidu Sanusi prevented a couple of dangerous breaks vs the Squirrels — and they’ll equally have to be on guard against Lesotho on Tuesday.
Creativity from full-backs
Sanusi was more conservative than he’d been previously in a Nigeria jersey against Benin, except for that moment before half-time when he darted beyond his marker and found Henry Onyekuru with a delightful cross.
Given that Ola Aina seldom ventured forward, the West African giants couldn’t count on their wide defenders as often as they might have liked in the attacking third.
If Paul Onuachu is rewarded for Saturday’s winner with a start against Lesotho, it’s imperative to get crosses into the box and both full-backs mostly guarantee that.
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It remains to be seen if Nigeria’s boss plays Wilfred Ndidi from the off or chooses to rest the Leicester City anchorman against Lesotho.
If Rohr gives the ball winner a breather, that leaves him with only Oghenekaro Etebo and Joe Aribo in the middle of the park, neither of whom is a natural defensive midfielder.
There are still questions over Aribo’s place in the team particularly as his undoubted talent barely shows in a two-man midfield.
Semi Ajayi or Abdullahi Shehu may start in defensive midfield, but the former’s best body of work is in central defence while Shehu is a natural right-back.
This leaves Rohr with somewhat difficult decisions to make and getting it wrong could draw the ire of an insatiable fanbase that were critical of his decision to invite only three natural central midfielders in the first place.
Finishing scoring opportunities
While this seems fairly cliche, ‘goals win games’ is a popular saying in football parlance, and for good reason.
Nigeria ought to have wrapped up the encounter in Benin and were minutes from only getting a point from a game they deserved all three — on the balance of the quality of chances created between the sides.
Their profligacy almost made Tuesday’s encounter matter somewhat as top spot in Group L would still be in play had Onuachu not found a way through.
Without question, Rohr’s men have to be more clinical if they hope to avoid any surprising result in Lagos.