As the Super Eagles finalise their plans for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, here five talking points of the team based on the match against Czech and other recent performances.
THREE-MAN DEFENCE, WAY TO GO?
Coach Gernot Rohr seems to have perfected the 3-4-3 formation as they looked comfortable in it on Wednesday. The formation has three defenders, which enables the full backs to help break play from the midfield, make forays forward to help the attack and also fall back to defend when necessary. It allows for a compact midfield and ensures the team can make good use of the wings. The Super Eagles adopted this formation in the first friendly against Argentina last year and the team was able to come from a two-goal deficit to inflict a 3-2 defeat on the Albiceleste. The Eagles also changed to the formation after falling two goals behind against England; and although it changed the overall outlook of the team after a next-to-horrible first half, they could only pull one back.
In the final warm-up game against Czech Republic, Coach Rohr played the three-man defence for the whole game, with John Ogu joining the ‘Oyinbo wall’ of Williams Troost-Ekong and Leon Balogun, giving an inkling that he might be settling for the formation when the team file out at the Mundial.
WILFRED NDIDI, FIT AND READY
Despite the uninspiring loss to Czech in the final work up game, there was good news as star midfielder Wilfred Ndidi returned to full fitness after playing the full 90 minutes. The Leicester midfielder has been out for four weeks after picking a knock in the final days of the just concluded season. It looked like Ndidi would not be ready for the team but with his display in the game against Czech, there's no doubting his fitness and shape for the tournament proper.
He is perhaps the most in-form midfielder in the team, after a wonderful season with Leicester where he pulled the most tackles in the Premier League and other top leagues combined in the whole season. There is a worry, though, how come he is still the only one we rely on for long throws, when his height can be fully effective on the other end?
IWOBI, THE NEW CREATIVE SPARK
As shown in the friendly against England, the Arsenal midfielder was a spark in the central midfield where he was drafted to. His skillful displays and passes unnerved the English defence, one of which led to a goal. Also, in the game against Czech, Iwobi was the only spark in the team, as he kept running, driving and creating chances for the team.
Iwobi might be set to have a wonderful summer as his deft touches, blistering runs and overall impressive display in his new role makes the team look livelier. Instead of sticking to the less creative combination of Mikel Obi, Wilfred Ndidi and Ogenyi Onazi, Coach Rohr might want to stick with this new pattern. Anyway it goes at the tournament, the future looks bright for the Eagles though; Iwobi might just be next 10 we have been looking for since Austin Okocha.
SET PIECES: BAD IN DEFENCE, WORSE IN ATTACK
This Super Eagles seem to have issues with set pieces on both sides of the field. Defending set pieces seems a problem for us. The defenders panic and get jittery as seen in the games against Czech, England and Serbia. Even though we have centre backs, the average height in the team is not particularly impressive. We need to do more in terms of player confidence and overall marking patterns as regards set pieces. While defending set pieces seems an arduous task, making good use of the many we get at the other end of the pitch looks even more difficult. Since Austin Okocha, we have not had a player who can play free kicks, corner kicks or even deliver good crosses in the team; this seems a big problem. Now that we have a 6ft 6 striker in the team in Simeon Nwankwo, the team needs to deliver quality crosses for him to be efficient in the team, although he seems good with his legs too.
EAGLES NOT YET READY?
Overall, if the last few friendly matches are anything to go by, the Super eagles might have a torrid time when the World Cup begins in Russia.
The team have struggled in the last few build-up games. Ever since the slim 1-0 win against Poland in March, Rohr's side has lost two and drawn one of the three matches that followed. The team seems more purposeful with an improved work ethic, but it still devoid of real spark. Coach Rohr played with the 3-4-3 formation, which was effective especially in the second half of the friendlies against Argentina and England. However, the team did not live up to expectation with its disappointing all-round display. It seems a lot still needs to be done, as the overall display does not look good enough yet, particularly because they could not make all the possesion count in the final third.
The team is currently training in Austria, from it will move to its base in Kaliningrad, where an opening World Cup match against Croatia looms on Saturday June 16.
The Super Eagles are appearing in their sixth World cup tournament amidst high expectations from fans across the world to beat their second-round outing in the last tournament in Brazil. Nigeria plays in Group D alongside perennial foes, Argentina, European contenders , Croatia and debutants, Iceland.