The mathematicians have come out with their permutations and we know the Eagles can still qualify for the second round with two wins in their next two matches – starting with Iceland on Friday.
But before we come to that bridge, Gernot Rohr must eat the frog, which is the position his captain, Mikel Obi must occupy in his team.
Many tactical analyses written after the 2-0 loss show the Super Eagles were sold short by Mikel Obi’s contribution to the team in the No.10 role. He occupied an offensive position but there was nothing offensive about his performance.
Jose Mourinho, who coached Mikel at Chelsea told Russian TV station, RT, “Mikel is not a No.10 – he is a No.6”. And he should know because he was the man that turned a promising No.10 in Nigeria’s U-20 team to the FIFA World Cup in 2005 into a stationary No.6.
Against Croatia, Mikel attempted 43 passes, 35 of which were accurate but made four tackles, second behind Wilfred Ndidi, who made five tackles while Oghenekaro Etebo made two.
Though Mikel made 81 percent of his passes, Ndidi, and Etebo, from his deep midfield role, made more passes and attempted more dribbles – nine in total to Mikel’s three.
Rohr’s defence was that he met Mikel in the No.10 position and the Tianjin Teda man successfully played the role during the qualifiers.
“I have been in Nigeria for two years now – we play Mikel in this role as an offensive midfielder.
“It was going very well throughout our games and the team was built around him.”
A man recognised as one of the genuine No.10s in the game, Austin Okocha, disagreed in his punditry role on SuperSport.
For the former Super Eagles captain, Mikel should have moved to a more defensive position and allow Alex Iwobi play the No.10 role. “Eagles didn’t get the best out of Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses because the manager was trying to accommodate Mikel Obi in the team.
“We didn’t have a creative player today,” Okocha stressed. “Mikel has been a good servant to the national team. His best position is playing in front of the defence. We saw what he did playing for Chelsea where he had a great career.
“The most creative player in that team is Alex Iwobi but he was played on the flanks. He (Iwobi) can play on the flanks at Arsenal because they had better players in that role like Mesut Ozil.”
As the designated playmaker, Mikel should get on the ball much more and create scoring chances for Odion Ighalo, but the former Chelsea defensive midfielder created just one chance in the game. Meanwhile, Etebo had more touches than the game’s man of the match, Luka Modric, getting 94 touches to Modric’s 87.
Due to the danger, he caused with the ball at his feet. Etebo was also the most fouled, with eight infractions against him. With his ability on the ball and the power he possesses, the question for Rohr will be what to do with Mikel against an Iceland team that will defend the front of their box very well. Should he drop his captain or push him deeper or should he just change his formation?
Croatia changed their setup against Nigeria because Zlatko Dalic knew Modric needed more room to operate and could have been stifled with the running power of Ndidi, so he moved him deeper where Mikel was his opponent.
Rohr said: “With Etebo and Ndidi, we had two good defensive midfielders who did very well against Croatia despite playing for the first time together.”
Rohr now needs to eat the frog – make the hard decisions to get the Eagles back on track.