There was palpable outrage from supporters after the German’s 24-man squad was revealed, but the broader imbalance was ignored by fans
As is always the case after squad announcements, the subsequent critiquing is largely par for the course. This was the case after Gernot Rohr’s Nigeria squad for the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Benin and Lesotho was revealed.
Fans evaluated the German tactician’s choices and, understandably, vented about Ahmed Musa’s selection. In fairness, this was justified given Musa’s been without a club since leaving Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr in October, meaning he’s just about clocked four months without competitive football.
If this decision isn’t making a mockery of the national team, then it’s hard to tell what is. Expectedly, the head coach’s logic was questioned in the aftermath of the release, with fans wondering why in-form Genk forward Paul Onuachu was overlooked.
While the opprobrium is justified, having the towering frontman in the 24-man group may have been overkill particularly as prolific Umar Sadiq made the list. The gigantic Almeria striker has netted 14 times in 21 La Liga 2 starts (25 appearances in total) and was rewarded for his stellar performances in the Spanish second-tier by the Nigeria boss.
His similar physique to Onuachu suggests the possible debutant is in the squad at the Genk striker’s expense.
There was also a bit of amusement at the fact fans were in the Belgium-based target man’s corner after roundly giving him stick on his last Super Eagles start against Algeria in October. At the time, a large proportion of fans impulsively said they never wanted to see the former Midtjylland forward represent the West African giants for the foreseeable future.
A more reasonable reaction, however, would have been to ask why the team barely played to the strengths of having an archetypal target man in the team.
Victor Osimhen ought to play as the central striker, with Sadiq as the understudy, while Kelechi Iheanacho could be an option if Rohr opts against the towering frontman route.
Be that as it may, other areas in the 24-man list raised concerns. What immediately stands out is the excessive inclusion of defenders and forwards, with the midfield seemingly light. The former accounts for eight of the total, as does the latter, meaning both positions make up 67 percent of the squad.
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A closer inspection reveals additional head-scratching choices. William Troost-Ekong, Leon Balogun, Chidozie Awaziem and Kenneth Omeruo are in the side as the primary centre-backs in the team while Ola Aina, Tyronne Ebuehi, Zaidu Sanusi and Jamilu Collins are the full-backs.
An argument can be made that at least one of the aforementioned players could be excluded, as Awaziem has tended to feature more at right-back under Rohr anyway while Aina is capable of playing on either flank.
There’ll be more reason to show frustration after seeing the midfield options which include Wilfred Ndidi, Oghenekaro Etebo, Joe Aribo, Semi Ajayi and Shehu Abdullahi. It’s not lost on anyone that Ajayi’s a central defender by trade while Shehu, despite being adept in midfield, largely does his best work at right-back.
Thus, there’s an inclination to state that Rohr’s squad contains a staggering 10 defenders in reality, which definitely serves as overkill in every sense of the word.
There are only three natural central midfielders in the current set up, and the paucity of options in the middle of the park is jarring. Of the trio, Aribo is at his best in a three-man midfield, as opposed to Rohr’s preference for a pairing in the middle of the park, or out wide in a playmaking role he’s thrived in under Steven Gerrard at Rangers.
The shortage of natural central midfielders for two games restricts the Nigeria boss, who is arguably repeating mistakes from the last international break where his limited midfield options meant there was little scope for game-changing alterations.
Musa’s call-up understandably draws significant attention due to the profile of the ex-Leicester City winger; however, Rohr’s choices not only demonstrate a worrying imbalance but have similarly left the Super Eagles with little wiggle room for significant variation in approach.