Jose Peseiro’s tenure as Super Eagles manager has not been without controversy. He has led the team to many defeats and has had to toggle from his original employer, the former Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president Amaju Pinnick, to the current one in Ibrahim Gusau.
Despite the fluctuations, one constant has been Victor Osimhen’s effectiveness in front of goal, whether for his club or country.
Between March 2022 and now, Osimhen has played 53 matches for Napoli and the Super Eagles, scoring 37 goals. He has five goals in his last four matches for the Eagles, though he failed to find the net in the 2022 World Cup deciders against Ghana last March.
His last outing for the Super Eagles was the historic 10-0 win achieved over São Tomé and Príncipe on June 13 at Stade d’Agadir in Morocco, in which he scored four goals and made two assists. In his absence, the Eagles played three friendly matches and scored just once, while conceding eight goals.
The former U-17 World Cup winner can jostle for the tag of being the hottest striker in the world barring Manchester City’s Erling Haaland, which has seen his value rise to approximately $107 million, according to transfermarket.
Thus, his mere presence on the pitch on Friday when Nigeria confronts Guinea Bissau in Abuja is almost a battle half-won. It is a surety that the Guinea Bissau coach Baciro Cande will have paid particular attention to how to stop Osimhen. The common sense approach therefore for Peseiro is to give his No.9 the needed platform to wreak the expected havoc.
Adapt Napoli’s tactics
The best football managers tailor their strategies to their best players. Argentina finally got it right at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, when Coach Lionel Scaloni gave Lionel Messi the support he needed to thrive and succeed.
This was despite the fact Messi had been a member of every unsuccessful Argentina World Cup team since 2010. The result was a first World Cup victory since 1986.
That brings us to the major reason Osimhen is thriving and breaking down barriers this season with Napoli.
Napoli manager Luciano Spalletti realised at the end of the 2021/22 season that some players, especially the forwards like Dries Mertens and homegrown captain Lorenzo Insigne, were good but taking away from Osimhen, who was supposed to be the main attacking fulcrum.
Fast forward to the 2022/23 season, and Spalletti let go of Mertens, Insigne, and midfield tyro Fabian Ruiz. These three players were all instrumental in how Napoli played and scored their 74 league goals.
Khvica Kvaratskhelia arrived and developed a symbiotic relationship with Osimhen and Napoli, who are now flying. They are on top of the Serie A table, 19 points better off than second-placed Lazio. They have scored 64 goals in 27 league games, with Osimhen scoring 21 times; that is almost a third of all their goals in the league.
We all know that the greatest form of flattery is imitation, and that is the advice for Peseiro. Napoli have shown the template to make Osimhen almost unplayable and all the Super Eagles manager needs to do is find the players that can support Osimhen in the same way.
Who can mimic Kvaratskhelia? Or Piotr Zielinski or Matteo Politano among the 23-man squad called up for the two-game against Guinea Bissau?
While we can say that personnel duplication may be simple because of the high quality, especially in the forward section; the interpretation of finding space and playing quickly through the sides of the central defenders may be more difficult for the players chosen to start on Friday because of not practising together enough as a unit.
Ademola Lookman has the guile, pace, and goal-scoring nous to start on the left side of the three-man forward line, while Samuel Chukwueze can replicate Politano or Hirving Lozano.
The midfielders who will replace Stanislav Lobotka and Andre Zambo Anguissa will be the next puzzle for Peseiro to solve. This is just as important as the forward three because they will provide the supply line and energy to back up the forwards’ press.
With Frank Onyeka still recovering from an injury, Wilfred Ndidi does not have the guile to play in more forward areas for the Eagles. Because of his mobility, Alex Iwobi can play the Lobotka role, which means Napoli’s 4-3-3 may need to be tweaked to a 4-2-1-3 to accommodate the available players.
READ ALSO: AFCON Qualifier: Osimhen arrives Super Eagles camp ahead Guinea Bissau encounter
If Peseiro gets this done, then victory over Guinea-Bissau is almost certain.
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho, Victor Sochima, Kingsley Aniagboso
Defenders: Oluwasemilogo Ajayi, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Kevin Akpoguma, Kenneth Omeruo, Calvin Bassey, Daniel Bameyi, Zaidu Sanusi, Bruno Onyemaechi
Midfielders: Wilfred Ndidi, Frank Onyeka, Alex Iwobi, Joe Aribo
Forwards: Kelechi Iheanacho, Ahmed Musa, Samuel Chukwueze, Moses Simon, Ademola Lookman, Terem Moffi, Victor Osimhen, Paul Onuachu.
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