25th June, 2019
Nigeria’s quest for a fourth African Cup of Nations (AFCON) trophy continues in Alexandria, Egypt as the Super Eagles take on Guinea in their second Group B encounter on Wednesday.
The Super Eagles are on top of their group with three points, following a narrow 1-0 victory against tournament debutants Burundi on Saturday.
As 24 teams slug it out in the continent’s most coveted football trophy in its new format, the Super Eagles are definitely one of the favourites to lift the trophy come July 14.
With two of the three countries making their debut in the tournament in Nigeria’s group, it is expected that the Super Eagles make light work of the group stage.
Under the new format, the countries that finish first and second in their group are guaranteed second round slots while the best four of the six third-placed teams also qualify.
The game against Guinea on Wednesday is perhaps the Eagles’ most difficult on paper at the group stage, but in football, anything can happen.
And that much was proven in the 2-2 draw played out by Guinea and Madagascar in the other first round match in the Super Eagles’ group.
As the Super Eagles file out against Guinea on Wednesday with the aim of booking a second round ticket, here are five talking points the coaching crew has to address.
Captain Mikel Obi’s role
In the game against Burundi, Super Eagles captain Mikel Obi was given an advanced ‘No. 10’ role by Coach Gernot Rohr.
The creative midfielder role is one the former Chelsea player was comfortable with at international level, even when he played in a more defensive position at club level.
However, at 32 years old and making a return to the national team after a stint at England’s second division side Middleborough, the coach should consider a deeper role for Obi against Guinea.
There are even pundits, such as veteran Segun Agbede, who never regard Obi as a number 10.
“Dear Gernot, playing a statuesque Mikel Obi at 10 in @NGSuperEagles, is an exercise in futility. He lacks both the pace and mobility.
“Because he wears the number 10 jersey doesn’t make him a 10.
“Please cease and desist,” Agbede wrote on his Twitter handle.
A younger Obi could have played in that position more comfortably, but Rohr should consider Stock City’s Oghenekaro Etebo for that role while Obi complements Winifred Ndidi in the heart of the midfield.
Transition between defence and attack
The Super Eagles have always thrived on fast movement, with effective ability to convert defence to attack through the channels.
It was the role Alex Iwobi and Samuel Chukwueze were meant to play in the game against Burundi.
However, many football enthusiasts were unpleased with how Chukwueze particularly held on to the ball for too long, thereby denying Paul Onuachu the opportunity to utilize his body against the defence.
Ex-International, Mutiu Adepoju, told NAN after the match against Burundi that transition was an aspect the team should work on before the game against Guinea on Wednesday.
“I commend the boys for a job well done, but going forward I think we need faster transition from defence to midfield and attack.
“We need to have the ability to surprise our opponents and not to be very predictable,” Adepoju said.
Tactics should depend on opponents
If nothing, the 32nd edition of AFCON in Egypt has so far proved two things:
One, there are no longer minnows in African football and second, to emerge champions, each game should be approached with its own unique tactics.
The game against Burundi is gone and the Super Eagles face a different challenge in Guinea. The technical crew may have to approach Guinea with an entirely different game plan or tweak that from the Burundi game.
Timely and apt substitutions
So far, Rohr seems to know what substitution to make when he needs to change the game as witnessed in the game against Burundi.
Bitrus Bewarang, the Technical Director of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), commended the coach for knowing how to use his substitutions to change the game.
“After a lacklustre first half by the Eagles’ standard where the Burundians even had two clear-cut chances the game changed in the second half.
“The second half was livelier than the first because the team came out more and the substitutions made by the coach proved vital to Nigeria’s victory.
“Gernot Rohr’s substitutions proved to win the match for Nigeria,” he said.
Of course, Bewarang was referring to the introduction of Ahmed Musa and Idion Ighalo.
If the Super Eagles find themselves in a situation whereby the game against Guinea wasn’t going as planned, timely and apt substitutions should be made.
Ighalo has earned his place in starting lineup
25-year-old Paul Onachu came into the national team based on his exploits with his Danish club FC Midtjylland.
Young, hungry and determined, the striker will definitely have his time with the Super Eagles, but sometimes experience and being in the team for so long have their advantages.
That is exactly the case with Ighalo, whose 77th minute strike made the difference against Burundi.
Nothing motivates a striker more in a tournament like AFCON than to be on the scoring sheet in their opening game.
Against Burundi, the Shanghai Greenland Shenhua striker did just enough to earn a starting role against Guinea on Wednesday.