Gernot Rohr has announced an exciting 23-man squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. But, can the chosen players do justice to the Golden Generation of Nigeria?
Nigeria have an esteemed history at the World Cup in the recent times. After having not qualified for any World Cup until the 1990s, the Super Eagles have managed to be present at every finals except the 2006 edition hosted by Germany.
Nigeria had a very comfortable World Cup qualification campaign in Group B alongside Cameroon, Zambia and Algeria – a group that many had touted to be one the toughest. The Super Eagles went through the qualification phase unbeaten, but were awarded a default loss against Algeria in the final match, despite the result ending in a 1-1 draw.
The loss was credited to Nigeria due to the Super Eagles fielding an ineligible player Shehu Abdullahi during the match. Nevertheless, Nigeria cruised through the qualification phase and are back for another tryst with the World Cup trophy.
The furthest the Super Eagles have managed is the Round of 16 and Gernot Rohr will be looking to guide the nation to a better result in Russia.
Group and Fixtures
Nigeria have a tough group to start with. The Super Eagles are in Group A alongside Argentina, Iceland and Croatia. Gernot Rohr’s men will start their campaign against Croatia before meeting against the It-Team of Europe at the moment, Iceland.
Nigeria will face off against Argentina in their final match of the group stage, a fixture that is likely to end up serving as the determinant in who tops the Group.
Gernot Rohr announced his 30-man preliminary squad before cutting it to 25 and finally announced his 23-man squad for the World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Francis Uzoho
Defenders: Brian Idowu, Elderson Echiejile, Kenneth Omeruo, William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Shehu Abdullahi, Chidozie Awaziem, Tyronne Ebuehi
Midfielders: Oghenekaro Etebo, John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses, Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi, John Ogu, Joel Obi
Forwards: Ahmed Musa, Odion Ighalo, Kelechi Iheanacho, Simeon Nwankwo, Alex Iwobi
All in all, Nigeria’s squad does look balanced going into the World Cup. But, there are several question marks over certain personnel decisions taken by Gernot Rohr.
Vincent Enyeama, arguably Nigeria’s best goalkeeper, found no place within the squad, despite having overturned his decision to retire from international football. The current goalkeeping options do not inspire as much confidence as Enyeama had commanded.
One of the surprise decisions was Rohr opting not to include Ola Aina in the squad for the World Cup. The Chelsea defender failed to make the final cut and would be disappointed to not be traveling with the squad to Russia.
The squad announcement also included a heartbreak, with Moses Simon bowing out of the World Cup due to injury. The speedster would have been keen to showcase his skills, especially with Liverpool showing an interest in his services. But, the player will now have to be content with cheering his nation on instead.
Gernot Rohr’s appointment as the national manager for Nigeria by the FA chief Amaju Pinnick raised a few eyebrows. Granted, Rohr had experience of managing African national teams, having coached nations like Niger, Gabon and Burkina Faso.
But, during the entirety of his managerial career, Rohr had been sacked more number of times than he had left the post himself or by mutual consent. His best performance in his managerial career had come at the club level with Bordeaux, leaving major question marks over his appointment.
Pinnick though, would be receiving words of praise, for the gamble has, thus far, paid off, with Rohr endearing his best ever spell as the manager of a national football team. Not only does Rohr have a brilliant record with Nigeria so far, the manager led the Super Eagles to be the first African nation to confirm their place at the 2018 World Cup.
While Rohr has experimented with the formation of late, the German has always opted for the 4-2-3-1 in important competitions, which means it is likely to be the formation for Nigeria in Russia.
Ikechukwu Ezenwa should be the first-choice in goal for Nigeria, with Balogun and Troost-Ekong expected to be the central defensive pairing. Elderson will slot in at left-back while Brian Idowu should command the right side of the defence.
John Obi Mikel’s industry and simplified brand of football will likely be complemented by the energetic and tenacious Wilfred Ndidi at the base of the 4-2-3-1. The wings are all but secured, with Alex Iwobi on the left and Victor Moses on the right. The point of contention will be the number 10 role and the striker.
Ahmed Musa’s pace is likely to mean he will be entrusted with the role on the left wing, perhaps, with Iwobi playing in a number 10 role. Kelechi Iheanacho should be preferred over Odion Ighalo, with the Leicester City striker boasting a better record with the national team than the latter.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Ezenwa; Idowu, Balogun, Troost-Ekong, Elderson; Mikel, Ndidi; Moses, Iwobi, Musa; Iheanacho
Nigeria are an underrated squad going into the World Cup. Pitted against the likes of Argentina, Iceland and Croatia, pace and strength will be Nigeria’s ally. Gernot Rohr’s men have the ability to take on the mantle of edging Argentina in the group.
We expect Nigeria to go through and perhaps, even top Group D. But, qualification into Round of 16 should be a minimum expectation from the Nigerian squad. The Super Eagles have the quality to even reach the quarter-finals and are a real dark horse for the World Cup in Russia.