Don’t rest on your laurels Super Eagles, the real work starts now!

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Gernot Rohr has done brilliantly in getting the West African giants to the ultimate showpiece, but a lot needs to done to get them ready

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With 15 minutes left on the clock, and just as thoughts of having to wait another month to secure World Cup qualification began to filter through the minds of Nigerians, Alex Iwobi popped up to finish after nice work from Victor Moses and Shehu Abdullahi to send the national side to Russia.

That goal sealed a near perfect run that had seen Nigeria overcome their opponents in the 'Group of Death' and reach a sixth World Cup.

The mission was completed, but things won't get any easier for Gernot Rohr, who now faces the task of preparing the Super Eagles for the tournament.

Gernot Rohr

The German coach deserves immense credit for turning things around.

He came in when the nation was at an all-time low, still reeling from the disastrous reign of Sunday Oliseh. As if missing out on a second successive Africa Cup of Nations wasn’t bad enough, what followed afterwards took embarrassing up a notch.

The debacle of Paul Le Guen’s appointment would have made staunch followers of the Super Eagles sick to their stomachs at the naivety displayed, yet, Rohr’s appointment didn’t exactly fill those faithful fans with any sort of excitement.

The former Burkina Faso gaffer remained undaunted and what’s followed has been truly remarkable.

Gernot Rohr

The desire to play football on the front foot has been one of the hallmarks of the wily old manager’s reign, while the squad's togetherness has also been evident.

Securing the ticket to Russia with a game to spare shows how far he’s brought the squad in a year.

There’s been a desire to build around a young core of players who could grow together and achieve a great deal.

However, such a strategy will be accompanied by growing pains – as the loss to South Africa in June clearly showed – but the foundations look solid enough, which is important in more ways than one.

Stuart Baxter and Gernot Rohr

However, getting carried away in the euphoria of having achieved something huge is a mistake the former Bordeaux manager cannot afford to make.

It’s not been completely plain-sailing in qualifying, with large sections of the fanbase calling for more flexibility with the playing personnel and tactics.

There remains a certain level of uncertainty in a number of positions – most especially in goal and at full-back.

Ikechukwu Ezenwa seems an adequate replacement for Carl Ikeme, but an injury to him leaves the squad short of options in goal with potential replacements clearly not good enough.

At full-back, Kenneth Omeruo and Elderson Echiejile’s struggles early on in qualifying threatened to undermine the Super Eagles’ campaign.

Elderson Echiejile

Shehu Abdullahi has proved a decent replacement in the last three games and looks to have made the position his.

Echiejile has managed to keep his place, but hasn't truly convinced, and the fact that there isn’t a natural replacement, nor a competitor in the squad has to worry fans.

The Sivasspor player is the apparent weak link in the backline, and is often targeted by opponents who seek to make the most of his defensive deficiencies.

Ola Aina replaced the former Monaco player against the Zambians, but the Chelsea loanee is a right-back by trade and having someone who’s naturally suited to the position would offer more balance to the side.

Ola Aina - Nigeria

It’s a bit more baffling in midfield and up front.

The Nigeria squad has the midfielders with the skillset to adopt different strategies, yet Rohr’s insistence on utilizing only a select few while alienating a couple of players makes the job a tad more difficult.

Take the Zambia game for example; as the Chipolopolo attacked the Super Eagles on their own patch, the game called for a bit of control to the ensuing chaos.

However, the German elected to bring on Mikel Agu (for the injured Ogenyi Onazi) when everything was pointing to a midfield instigator in the ilk of John Ogu.

Something similar played out against Cameroon in Yaounde, when the manager brought on Agu for the tiring Mikel John Obi.

You’ve got to wonder why Rohr hasn’t used the full complement of his midfielders (think Ogu and Oghenekaro Etebo) and adapt to games as the situation calls for it. Such tactical misdemeanors will need addressing before next year’s tournament in Russia.

John Ogu

In attack, Odion Ighalo has started the last three games to mixed performances. Brilliant in the game against Cameroon as the Super Eagles romped past the African champions, his performances in the last two games have paled in comparison.

Critics felt he wasn’t the right fit for the Zambia game, but he started regardless – which showed (yet again) Rohr’s unwillingness to adapt to the opponents, but rather stick to a winning team (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). On another day, it could have backfired spectacularly.

Kelechi Iheanacho and Anthony Nwakaeme need to be given a fair crack at being first choice to lead the line as they both have contrasting styles to the Changchun Yatai forward and could be utilized as the situation requires.

 

Perhaps a little experimenting will be done in the next few games as Rohr gets his charges ready for next year’s showpiece.

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Nevertheless, it should be noted the Afcon qualifier in Seychelles is one game the West African giants can’t go into thinking it’ll be a walk in the park. It’s a must-win if they’re not to play catch-up early on and they’ve got to be motivated for the encounter.

Nigeria are flying at the moment, but this isn’t the time to get carried away, as the extravaganza in Russia is closer than ever.

The real work starts now!  

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