After Tuesday’s meeting with Serbia, Gernot Rohr will have a stable picture of how his team would look, barring any last minute injuries and drastic loss of form, against Croatia on June 18.
The next time the team will congregate will be before their friendly match against DR Congo on May 25 – three weeks before their opening game of Russia 2018. On Tuesday he will be looking to decide whether:
- Uzoho will keep the gloves
It is almost a foregone conclusion that Francis Uzoho will start for Nigeria at the World Cup. Many have asked why that should be and I have thus proffered a simple explanation. First, Rohr does not trust Ikechukwu Ezenwa (I might be wrong) because of his height. I make this assertion based on what Berti Vogts did as Eagles manager. He dropped the incumbent Vincent Enyeama for the taller Austin Ejide. Germans like tall goalkeepers and Ezenwa makes the same mistakes that many are accusing Uzoho of.
- Joel Obi as a substitute for Mikel Obi
Against Poland, Joel Obi was inundated with tackling and offering stability in front of the defence as Kelechi Iheanacho played a floating role – where he did almost nothing in defence and in the attack. Against Serbia, he would have been mandated to hold the ball and dictate play with Wilfred Ndidi and Ogenyi Onazi as the double defensive pivots. This is the role carved out for Mikel Obi but we also know that the China-based midfielder will not play all the minutes of all the games in Russia so a steady backup is needed. Will he pass the audition?
- Ahmed Musa as a substitute at No.9
Another challenging position has been that of the lead striker in this team. He has tried Odion Ighalo, and surely the Yetai man will be in Russia. But looking at the way the team wants to play – rapid counter-attacks, Rohr wants to test the validity of Musa’s pace in consonance with Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi. He would be looking at how they rotate across the front and how in sync they are.
- Brian Idowu as a starter ahead of Elderson Echiejile
There is an assurance that Elderson Echiejile, a senior in this team, will be in Russia despite playing in Belgium’s second division. The challenge, like Clemens Westerhof had with Ben Iroha in 1994, is who will be the backup? Ola Aina is also on the periphery of the team but a good outing for Idowu against Serbia, where he will be asked to join the attack as frequently as possible could see the Amkar Perm man nail down his place on the Russia-bound plane.
- Who needs to be dropped
Mikel Agu, Uche Agbo, Chidozie Awaziem have been perennial call-ups in Rohr’s training camps but there is now the need to start communicating with the players who don’t stand any chance of making the team to Russia. It would be better they have the confidence of the manager and private discussions on their involvements going forward.