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Nigeria, Peseiro have to make the most of Super Eagles' untidy Algeria preparation

18:05 SAST 2022/09/26
Nigeria huddle
A spate of withdrawals have engulfed the West Africans’ planning for Tuesday’s friendly in Oran

On the one hand, it is easy to dismiss Nigeria’s meeting with Algeria this week as unimportant.

Admittedly, there is no jeopardy owing to the uncompetitive nature of Tuesday’s encounter in Oran, nor is it a preparatory game for the imminent World Cup finals, with both sides failing to make it to Qatar.

Be that as it may, Jose Peseiro would have wanted to go into this week’s friendly under different circumstances.

Nigeria will be without Victor Osimhen, the Super Eagles’ most reliable centre-forward, Wilfred Ndidi, an anchorman of the highest quality, and the plethora of injury withdrawals came to a head when William Troost-Ekong became the latest casualty over the weekend.

The challenge of selecting a goalkeeper for the game adds to the issues the Portuguese trainer has to address against Djamel Belmadi’s men.

Despite supporters’ disinclination to get on the Francis Uzoho train, the goalkeeper’s commendable performances have been unmistakable under Nigeria’s new trainer.

However, the Omonia Nicosia custodian’s lack of match action since the start of September is concerning. Altogether, Uzoho has played 135 minutes of football in 2022-23, frankly, not enough to justify a starting berth for the national team.

But the expected stand-in, Maduka Okoye, has not fared better, evidenced by a 90-minute EFL Cup debut in August which account for his only minutes in 2022-23.

The Watford custodian’s comical error in the 2-2 draw with Algeria’s second-string side perhaps reflected his lack of match action, but that should not have happened, regardless of minimal game time.

This has precipitated calls for Adebayo Adeleye to be thrown in for his maiden start between the sticks. Whether Peseiro opts for the shot-stopper who made his debut over the weekend remains to be seen, but his choice will get people talking, nonetheless.

Centre-forward is arguably not one of the issues, owing to the varying alternatives in that position.

The Super Eagles have broadly had a long-standing goalkeeping problem since Vincent Enyeama retired and Carl Ikeme did likewise on medical grounds…and it now seems a new one is developing in the middle of the park.

Ndidi’s frequent injuries are far from ideal, especially as it remains a position in which quality alternatives are at a premium.

Innocent Bonke has occupied the role in the Leicester City man’s absence, but his limitation in possession has underwhelmed, although Peter Etebo’s creditable showings have not gone unnoticed.

However, playing as the team’s deepest midfielder — a role he has occupied in both competitive fixtures under Peseiro — limits his box-to-box tendencies. Without minutes on the pitch for Watford before sealing a temporary transfer to Aris Saloniki, Nigeria was shorn of one player adept at filling in for Ndidi.

In isolation, the Leicester star’s layoff appears to be precautionary and should not spark alarm. Be that as it may, an overview of 2022 shows the former Genk midfielder has not played for the Super Eagles since they exited the Africa Cup of Nations against Tunisia earlier this year.

He was absent for the two-legged World Cup playoff with Ghana in March, missed uncompetitive games with Mexico and Ecuador and was unavailable for fixtures with Sierra Leone and Sao Tome and Principe.

Indeed, it is safe to assume Ndidi is playing catch-up with the national team, regardless of his high standing in that position. The current situation is not fatal, but not what anyone wants, as these friendlies could be instructive to Peseiro despite the absence of imminent jeopardy.

This could all be opportune for Raphael Onyedika, whose stock has risen of late and could replace Ndidi in the team for Tuesday’s meeting with Algeria.

The jury is still out on the former Midtjylland man whose Club Brugge move is not only one that has elevated the 21-year-old but also brought with it Champions League football.

While early indications show that Onyedika, like Ndidi, may not aid a team’s progressive play, the former’s reading of the game and positional awareness could benefit the three-time African giants.

Peseiro has retained his positive manner in the build-up to Tuesday’s meeting with Algeria despite the chaotic preparation.

As it stands, he is seemingly intent on propagating optimism despite the recent ill fortune. That mindset puts the Super Eagles in good stead under the Portuguese tactician before a ball is kicked, regardless of their Algeria result.