Nigeria’s 2-1 loss to England at Wembley on Saturday might have been a show of two halves - the Three Lions dominating the first and the Super Eagles coming back stronger after the break - but it's clear that the team have been struggling since the end of the World Cup qualifiers which they went unbeaten.
There's much to be worried about ahead of the global showpiece, which kicks off on June 14.
The midfield was the most glaring weakness against Gareth Southgate’s side, with Ogenyi Onazi heavily criticised. The Trabzonspor player was easily dispossessed in the build-up to the Three Lions' second goal and failed to show any assertiveness.
Fans had previously called for Onazi not to be included in the final 23-man squad as he is believed not to have anything to offer.
However, while the 25-year old’s performances might have raised concerns, his experience from being an African Cup of Nation winner in 2013 to playing at the 2014 World Cup is enough to give him the nod ahead of the less-fancied Mikel Agu.
That is also the best explanation why a promising Ola Aina would be dropped ahead of Elderson Echiejile, whose stock continues to fall.
Francis Uzoho now seems to be the favoured goalkeeper going to Russia, but he still carries a big risk with his relative lack of experience at the top level. This could leave him exposed in the big moments and it’s definitely something to worry about, even when the other two options in Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Daniel Akpeyi are little better.
This game against England is an eye-opener because I feel it has exposed Gernot Rohr to some key areas that need a shakeup. The result in Russia counts more than the defeat to England @NGSuperEagles #SoarSuperEagles #Team9jaStrong pic.twitter.com/GhY2K1Tae2 — Mutiu Adepoju (@MutiuAdepoju8) June 2, 2018
At right-back, coach Gernot Rohr has the dilemma of picking between Shehu Abdullahi, who is more defence-oriented, and Tyronne Ebuehi, who is a threat when going forward. Which one gets the nod may be decided by the approach that the German coach adopts.
The midfield has also received criticism due to a lack of coordination and creativity in Mikel’s absence.
The skipper didn’t play to his best against England, and his off-day was a reminder of how little Nigeria can offer creatively when the former Chelsea man is not at the races.
Nigeria have quality in attack, but the biggest issue is their inability to turn up on a consistent basis.
Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi have been integral parts of Rohr’s setup, but they go missing sometimes. Moses, at times, wants to go for glory himself and this leads to him to wasting chances. Such habits need to be put behind him if he’s really going to make an impression in Russia.
Ahmed Musa - who despite having a revived career at old club CSKA Moscow - has also been a shadow of himself too often, even if he is one of the most experienced players in the squad beside Echiejile, Mikel and Onazi.
Kelechi Iheanacho was averaging a goal per game in the green jersey once upon a time, but he hasn't scored in his last three matches, and his ratios have declined dramatically. He has failed to bring any spark into the attack recently, creating little or nothing, which questions his commitment and zeal for the national team.
Rohr says he will push hard #SuperEagles in next two weeks because "we are not ready yet for #WorldCup" after his team fell 2-1 to #England #ThreeLions in a Wembley warm-up. #Nigeria next fly out to Austria where they face #CzechRepublic June 6 #ENGNGA pic.twitter.com/cJ13JEs4Hv — Samm Audu, FIFA (@FIFAWorldCupNGA) June 3, 2018
Odion Ighalo has been a top player at club level, always getting the goals in consistently, but it’s never the same story with the Super Eagles, and he last netted in the 4-0 drubbing of Cameroon in September 2017.
He is Rohr’s preferred choice as centre-forward despite scoring just four times in 17 national appearances, and with Simy Nwankwo still something of an unknown quantity, Ighalo looks the best bet to lead the line in Russia.
The showing against England reaffirmed that, in terms of individual talent, the Super Eagles squad still falls short compared to the world's strongest sides, and they have their work cut out to escape a group containing Argentina, Croatia and Iceland.
There's reason for optimism, considering some of the young elements in the squad, but this tournament may come too soon for the squad...and it isn't all Onazi's fault!