Gaps to fill for super eagles coach Rohr
Off the back of Nigeria’s campaign at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, there were two immediately obvious areas of concern.
The first was in the goalkeeper department. In truth, it is an area that has caused Super Eagles coach Gernot Rohr no end of consternation during his time in charge. Carl Ikeme, Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Francis Uzoho have all, at one time or the other, laid claim to the no.1 spot and, aside the now-retired former Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper, all have failed to convince.
In Egypt, it was Akpeyi who was given the nod, and while there were no calamitous gaffes (at least none that led to concessions), his lack of assertiveness in his own area and a general air of untidiness to the manner in which he fielded efforts on goal had many a sphincter tightly clenched.
The other area of concern was midfield. While a pairing of Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi offered a great deal of huff and bustle, it failed in two critical aspects: it neither offered sufficient protection for the back four (both players have the ball as a primary reference point) nor a reliable conduit into Alex Iwobi and the rest of the front four.
In particular, the come-from-behind victory against Cameroon in the Round of 16 exemplified the former concern, while the semi-final defeat at the hands of Algeria laid bare the latter.
The latest list of call-ups for the Super Eagles ahead of the September 10 friendly against Ukraine suggests Rohr is giving serious thought to addressing these two concerns, specifically in the form of new invitees Maduka Okoye and Joe Aribo.
Aribo, in particular, is one who is particularly exciting. The Rangers midfielder, who moved to Glasgow this summer from Charlton Athletic, was a crucial part of the Addicks’ promotion to the Championship at the end of last season, and has earned rave reviews from Bhoys’ manager Steven Gerrard already.
Rohr clearly does not trust what the Nigeria Professional Football League has to offer, and so is willing to roll the dice on a somewhat inexperienced goalkeeper who nevertheless has a proper foundation in terms of the fundamentals.
It remains to be seen whether he can provide a solution, and his recent return from surgery means he faces a race to be fully fit for the Ukraine friendly. However, if he is able to stake his claim and take to international football, the Super Eagles would be one step closer to their final form under Rohr.