It is not everyday you get to play at the historical Wembley Stadium. The last time the Super Eagles graced that hallowed ground was in the aftermath of the 1994 World Cup and Austin Okocha and company dazzled, even though they lost 1-0 – a goal scored by David Platt in the first half.
The game on Saturday is to prepare for the 2018 FIFA World Cup that kicks off on June 14. While the Three Lions should progress from Group G that comprises Belgium, Panama, and Tunisia the Super Eagles face a daunting task to eclipse Argentina, Croatia, and Iceland in Group D.
Both Gareth Southgate and Gernot Rohr will use the encounter to fine-tune their tactics and personnel for the big kickoff. For Nigeria’s manager, there are still many tees to be crossed with a key player – Wilfred Ndidi, still on a rehabilitation track.
Against England, he will hope to get answers to these five nagging questions:
Is Uzoho good enough to be Eagles’ No.1?
One position that continues to ensure Nigerian football fans break out in cold sweat is who would man the posts for the Eagles in Russia? It took the releases of the 30-man provisional squad to douse the strident calls for Vincent Enyeama’s recall.
While many, especially commentators on the Nigeria Professional Football League [NPFL] want Enyimba’s Ikechukwu Ezenwa to start because of his good showing during the qualifiers, every other index points at Francis Uzoho being the man [though 19] favoured by Rohr.
The verdict would be that the German manager is doing all he can to create synergy between Uzoho and the likeliest central defensive pairing of Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong. If the Deportivo la Coruna Team B goalkeeper does adequately well against England, his status as No.1 for Russia would be cemented.
What formation will be best for the Eagles?
The major attacking conundrum for Rohr has been how to accommodate Kelechi Iheanacho in his starting 11 but not as the main striker. Against the Congo DR last Monday in Port Harcourt, the Leicester City man played behind the main striker – Simeon Nwankwo.
Against Argentina last November, Iheanacho played with Alex Iwobi as a front two as Rohr experimented with a 3-5-2 formation. He strategy floundered in the first half but the team rallied in the second half to blitz the Argentines. Against England, who favours three at the back under Southgate – will Rohr again opt for the three at the back to see if it favours the speed of the Nigerian team offensively?
Head to head
|December 6, 2002||WOC||Nigeria||0 – 0||England|
|16/11/94||FRI||England||1 – 0||Nigeria|
How can the team create more scoring chances?
Just as England have found it hard to score – in their last six matches, the Three Lions have mustered three goals while the Nigerians have scored eight – four in the match against Argentina.
Since that uplifting win against Lionel Messi-less Argentina, the Super Eagles have not been up to scratch, especially in creating goal-scoring chances. Against Poland, which the Eagles won 1-0, had no shot on target and against Serbia, that pattern repeated itself even though they had three shots on target, they did not create any notable danger for the polish goalkeeper, Vladimir Stojkovic.
Will his bench be good enough to support the starting 11?
At the last World Cup in Brazil, FIFA’s Study Group reveled that, “The squad, who also needed top-class substitutes who accepted their situation and were able to slot seamlessly into the team shape after coming on to make a difference in the game.”
Will the likes of John Ogu, Ahmed Musa, etc. be ready to make the difference when they are called upon? Will the Eagles not suffer if Mikel Obi gets injured or gets two yellow cards in consecutive matches?
How far gone are the players in their mental preparation?
The betting odds do not favour the Super Eagles. It is largely assumed they stand no chance against Argentina and Croatia particularly.
Do the players have a contrary view? Do they believe they can give as well as they will get and triumph against better-rated teams? Rohr will understand his players much better after the England encounter.
The match kicks off at Wembley Stadium on Saturday at 5:15pm.