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Has Gernot Rohr missed a big opportunity with Super Eagles selection?

14:19 GMT+3 05/03/2019
Gernot Rohr
The Nigeria coach unveiled a largely familiar squad ahead of the showdown with the Seychelles
Anyone hoping that Gernot Rohr would shuffle his pack ahead of Nigeria’s final Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Seychelles was left bitterly disappointed when the Super Eagles coach unveiled his 23-man squad on Monday.

The showdown against the minnows later this month may be a dead rubber, but it represented a valuable opportunity for Rohr to mix things up ahead of this summer’s continental showpiece.

However, he largely resisted the temptation to give a swathe of peripheral figures a run-out, attempt to convince any dual-nationality players to commit to the cause, or to return to a host of familiar faces.

Admittedly, the coach has attempted to freshen things up—even if only marginally—since the group-stage exit at the World Cup, but his latest squad suggests that he’s content not to rejig his options any further.

It’s disappointing, considering the wealth of options Nigeria boast across the world, and may come back to haunt the German coach if the Eagles once again look jaded at a major tournament.

Let’s begin by giving credit where credit is due, as Rohr hasn’t completely stuck with the tried and tested.

Of the two new faces, Valentine Ozornwafor was the more unexpected and less familiar name.

The young defender was one of the star performers for the Flying Eagles as they finished fourth at the recent U-20 Afcon in Niger, and the Enyimba defender ultimately made the cut for Caf’s Best XI.

However, it remains to be seen whether the youngster’s inclusion represents a genuine show of faith on the part of Rohr, or whether it’s just one of the coach’s customary nods to youth and to the NPFL.

Rohr has called up local players in the past, but the likes of Junior Lokosa, Adeleye Aniyikaye, Stephen Eze, Ebube Duru have only ever been given a glimpse of the first team before being discarded.

The other inclusion is Paul Onuachu, who has been made to wait to make his international bow.

The 24-year-old won the Danish title last season and made headlines as far back as February 2016 when he scored FC Midtjylland’s winner in their 2-1 Europa League triumph over Manchester United.

This term, the striker has 14 goals in 21 Superliga outings—he’s the joint third highest scorer in the division—and fully deserves his opportunity to impress.

The towering forward could also be the coveted Plan B that Nigeria have often lacked under Rohr. Simy Nwankwo was assessed—and jettisoned—in this role, as were Tony Nwakaeme and Aaron Samuel before him.

Can Onuachu succeed where others before him have failed?

Beyond those two, however, there’s been a depressing lack of experimentation from Rohr, who appears content that the players he has at his disposal can compete with the continent’s best.

John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses remain absent; the former is understood to have asked the coach’s permission to stay away as he concentrates on Middlesbrough’s promotion push.

On one hand, it’s an understandable excuse, but it means that the national team’s talisman—and captain, don’t forget—will have spent almost a year away from the squad by the time the Afcon rolls around.
It’s hardly setting the best example, is it?

Moses announced his retirement after the World Cup, although any hopes that he might have reconsidered—with one eye on continental glory in Egypt—were dashed by his omission from the squad.

At just 28, and rediscovering some of his best form in Turkey with Fenerbahce, the versatile wideman could have had a lot to offer.

Disappointingly too, Rohr appears to have not attempted—or failed—to have convinced any of the many dual-nationality players around the world to turn out for the Super Eagles.

The biggest prize would have been Tammy Abraham, who has been overlooked by England for the best part of two years, yet has found some awesome goalscoring form in the Championship.

He’s still eligible for Nigeria, but if Rohr was unable to use the allure of the upcoming Afcon to tempt him to reconsider his international future, then Super Eagles fans may have to wait until the World Cup 2022.

Beyond Abraham, there’s a swathe of other players who could have offered a boost to the current squad.

While the likes of Uganda and Morocco have used the prospect of a showing at the Nations Cup to convince players to join the cause, resources such as Fikayo Tomori, Josh Onomah, Ademola Lookman,

Kevin Akpoguma, Dominic Solanke, Tosin Adarabioyo, Eberechi Eze, Jordan Torunarigha and even Philip Billing remain overlooked by Nigeria selectors.

The list could go on and on…

While the decision to axe Kelechi Iheanacho—underperforming at club and international level recently—is understandable, and represents a strong move by Rohr, snubbing Samuel Chukwueze appears counterproductive.

The wideman is enjoying a breakout campaign with Villarreal, but after making his Nigeria debut during the last international window, hasn’t been included again.

It’s a bizarre move; Nigeria don’t have too many wonderkids plying their trade in the world’s absolute biggest leagues, and Chukwueze will surely be a part of the national team for a decade to come—barring injury or other misfortune.

What he needs now is the opportunity to further integrate into the international fold, to truly ‘become’ a Super Eagle, and to develop a rapport with his compatriots.

Will a showing in the friendly draw with Uganda truly prepare him for the Cup of Nations, or could the games against the Seychelles and Egypt have provided exactly that opportunity?

Elsewhere, there’s a fear that Rohr’s decision to stick with his familiar faces, many of whom haven’t taken a succession of opportunities to impress, could come across as complacency.

There’s not much that we can learn about the likes of Alex Iwobi, Wilfred Ndidi, William Troost-Ekong or Leon Balogun, for example, in a clash with the Seychelles.

However, this could have been an ideal opportunity for Rohr to have assessed—up close and in a pressure-free environment—the merits of players such as Azubuike Okechukwu and Aminu Umar for example, both of whom could offer something a little different to the current crop.

It’s hard to not see this squad announcement as an opportunity lost for Rohr as the Afcon looms.