Rohr’s Gambling Goes Unpunished against Burundi, But Is It Enough Now?

By Daily Sports on June 25, 2019

Views: 504

Nigeria’s Super Eagles got their campaign in the Egypt 2019 AFCON to a winning start courtesy of a brilliant goal from poacher and super sub Odion Ighalo who profited from a superb back heel pass from left back Ola Aina to slot in Nigeria’s solitary goal against hard-fighting Burundi in the second half.

It was a game that seemed destined for a draw as little separated the two teams despite the gulf in football rating that separated both sides prior to Saturday evening’s kick off.

Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr opted for a line-up that contained some obvious gambles in my opinion and for long spells of the game it seemed like the gambles could cost the team the much needed 3 points.

There were 3 of such gambles:

1: The decision to start captain Obi Mikel as an attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3 set up.

2: The breaking of the ‘Oyibo Wall’ in defence and deciding to drop Brighton’s Leon Balogun for Kenneth Omeruoh to partner William Troost Ekong in the heart of defence and

3: Picking Paul Onuachu ahead of the more experienced and accomplished Odion Ighalo to start the game.

Let’s examine the first one. Mikel has shown in the national team colours overtime that he is not suited for the attacking midfield position. Yet somehow there’s this persistence to see him fulfill that role for the Nigerian senior national team and it’s usually failed and Saturday evening’s game was no exception.

The long held argument amongst a section of Nigerian national team followers is that former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho is guilty of having “changed” Mikel’s game from attacking Midfield to a defensive midfielder and many hold the Portuguese responsible till date for Mikel’s inability to transform to a proper Austin Jay Jay Okocha after the promise he showed in the 2005 FIFA under-20 World Cup playing as an attacking midfielder.

But, as I argued in an earlier article years ago, Mikel has never shown enough consistency in the attacking midfield position at the highest level to prove that was the true role for him and also, he has never really come out to contradict Mourinho or the other coaches who used him as strictly a central defensive midfielder.

Mikel, simply put, has never been that mobile midfielder with consistent bursts of speed in his legs to deliver the killer final pass in the final third. Rohr practically wasted him in the attacking midfield position instead of deploying the ex-Chelsea lad in a more accustomed deep lying midfield position where he possesses the guile to pull the strings for the Eagles.

The Eagles only truly came alive when Mikel was subbed and Alex Iwobi was drafted into the playmaker position against Burundi and the solitary goal duly arrived as a result of a spell of Nigerian pressure.

Hopefully, we don’t get to see the Super Eagles captain used as an attacking midfielder against Guinea in our next match on Wednesday, June 26.

This is a swansong tournament for Mikel and Rohr shouldn’t give him a role that would make him bow out of the national team picture as a villain rather than as a hero that his years of meritorious service to his fatherland clearly deserves.

Another big call made by Rohr was dropping Leon Balogun for Kenneth Omeruoh as regards his choice for a central defence partner for Willaim Troost Ekong. Balogun and Ekong have both been acclaimed positively for their superb partnership in Nigeria’s central defence in the last few years and their partnership has been termed ‘Oyibo Wall’ owing to their mixed race heritage and their solidity as a defensive pair.

However, Kenneth Omeruoh has improved for his Spanish La Liga club Leganes, commanding regular appearances for them while, unfortunately, Balogun went off the radar of first team football for Brighton and this has played into the thinking of Rohr.

Against Burundi, the Eagles defence struggled badly at times and goalie Daniel Akpeyi had to bail them out on several occasions. Though they kept a clean sheet, the central defence looked less solid that it was when the ‘Oyibo Wall’ partnership was at its best.

Finally, I was piqued by Rohr’s selection of Paul Onuachu to start ahead of Odion Ighalo. The former Watford man represents, at the moment, the best, most accomplished and most experienced striker Nigeria can boast of now and it was a big risk leaving him out for a relative green horn.

Onuachu doesn’t seem to me to have enough guile and flexibility that is required to lead the line for the Super Eagles.

Though he netted a record-making goal when he scored within a few seconds to give Nigeria a 1-0 win against Egypt some months ago in a build-up game, Onuachu still has a lot to learn to become the main man for the Eagles.

Has Ighalo shown beyond doubt that he is the ‘go to’ man if we need an assured head to be at the front for Rohr’s Eagles as we seek another Nations Cup triumph? I think the answer is yes.

Source Daily Sports

Posted June 25, 2019


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