With Kelechi Iheanacho likely to miss out on Sunday, Gernot Rohr’s team have limited goal scoring options against the Central Africans.
Thursday’s defeat by the Central African Republic, despite being disastrous in isolation, hasn’t thrown spanner in the works to Nigeria’s prospects of progressing to the all-important third round in World Cup qualifying.
Admittedly, the 1-0 reverse in Lagos was unexpected, with the Super Eagles expected to wipe the floor with their opponents who’d picked up only one point from a possible six, netted only once and conceded two goals in their opening two games—failing to keep any clean sheet.
Gernot Rohr’s men sit on six points after three games in Group C, two ahead of the side they face in Douala on Sunday and as many ahead of a Cape Verde team they undeservedly defeated 2-1 in September.
Maximum points against the Wild Beasts will right the perceived wrongs from Thursday, but any kind of victory will be hard-fought.
There’s the continued opinion that Rohr’s inability to assemble a side with any coherence finally caught up to the side in the 1-0 home loss last time out, with the Super Eagles struggling in major facets of their play.
The ball progression from deep left a lot to be desired, they missed Alex Iwobi’s ability to drop into deep positions and connect the side and the players capable of making the difference were off their game.
The latter, in particular, seems to be a growing concern heading into Sunday’s rematch, with Kelechi Iheanacho expected to miss out when both sides face off again.
“There will be some changes. Already, there are some injuries and I don’t know if Kelechi [Iheanacho] can play because he had a knock,” the German boss stated after the loss.
The Leicester City man netted both goals in the humdrum 2-0 win over Liberia last month but was replaced by Taiwo Awoniyi at the interlude. The in-form Union Berlin man missed Nigeria’s biggest opportunity of the evening, he’s still inexperienced at this level and doesn’t possess Iheanacho’s uncanny ability to score goals out of nothing.
Victor Osimhen is the obvious go-to if the Leicester frontman misses out, but the red-hot Napoli man can’t carry the can on his own. The overreliance on Iheanacho — replaced at half-time on Thursday — and Osimhen — who didn’t have his shooting boots on in the loss — cost Rohr’s men as others did little or nothing to come up trumps in Lagos.
As might be expected, the former Bordeaux and Gabon boss is confident of his team’s chances heading into the fixture, yet you wonder whether he’s pondering where the goals will come from.
Of the starters last time out — excluding Iheanacho and Osimhen — Chidera Ejuke and Moses Simon aren’t forwards who have goals in them.
The CSKA Moscow man is direct and will draw players to himself with his incisiveness and natural ability, but he’s only scored twice in the Russian Premier League in 10 appearances, with his last strike coming way back in August while Simon — who frustratingly remains erratic in a Nigeria jersey — is more creator from open play and set-pieces than a goal scorer.
Aside from the green Awoniyi, the other attackers available are Samuel Kalu, who’s seldom on the end of moves but prefers to take on his markers before setting up others and Ahmed Musa, a player whose continued inclusion in the national team raises eyebrows.
It is anyone’s guess how Rohr plans to navigate a tricky rematch with an organized Central African Republic side, but anyone expecting this to be plain sailing ought to have a rethink.
With the dearth of match-winners available, a tactically unsophisticated coach and a side reeling from an astonishing defeat on home turf, several questions are being asked about the West African giants before Sunday’s kick-off.
Whether these questions are answered in Douala remain to be seen, but a victory is imperative to prevent a typically gloom-ridden and panicky support to stay on-side heading into the final two rounds of World Cup qualifiers in November.
Seye Omidiora is a passionate football writer and pundit whose deep appreciation for the beautiful game exceeds the usual. He is currently a columnist for Goal Africa and has previously written for Vital Football UK, IBCity Info and Opera News.
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