What's wrong with Nigeria's attack?
Background photo: Abdelrhman, CC BY 3.0
The 2019 African Cup of Nations group stage is complete. The Round of 16 begins today. All of the top nations arrived at the party. The Super Eagles of Nigeria remain among the favourites to claim the title despite a shocking group stage defeat to Madagascar in which, contrary to certain rumours, penguins played no part.
Hampered by injuries to key players, Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr hasn't been as tactically flexible as fans hoped. Christian Atsu is ruled out with a hamstring. Jon Mikel Obi's tournament is in doubt after a knee strain. Tightening up has adversely affected the Super Eagles attacking flair. The German tactician sticks to the old guns he trusts, leaving more skilful players on the bench. The 66-year-old adheres to the notion you can't win the tournament in the early doors but you can lose it.
In the knockout rounds, the competition increases. Absorbing pressure without exerting any of their own invites disaster on the squad. At some point, Rohr must throw his looser cannons into the battle. The question is whether it will be too late when he does?
Unlike the setback against Madagascar, the next defeat is the end of the road for the three-time African champions. If that happens in the round of 16, it will be an absolute disaster and possibly the end of the road for Rohr.
With the squad he brought to the tournament, the opportunity existed to expand Nigeria's influence. Instead, it has contracted. Players like Henry Onyekuru and Victor Osimhen have been spectators only. Samuel Chukwueze doesn't have the gaffer's confidence either.
Rohr's obstinance is a concern. It was obvious Nigeria needed a wide player against Madagascar to turn the tide. Instead, he made a like-for-like exchange, Samuel Kalu for Moses Simon. Both possess straightforward games. The tricky, unpredictable Chukwueze languished. It's possible the World Cup affect the manager's thinking. The Super Eagles played three different formations in the group stage and failed to progress. Does he think consistency is the answer?
Before taking his knock, Obi Mikel's play suggested his time at the AFCON had passed. In his stead, Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo are doing a great job manning the midfield but Odion Ighalo seems isolated upfront. Is it time to bring in a supporting striker to link him to the midfielders. Will Rohr trust Alex Iwobi in such a role?
Losing to Madagascar was a wake-up call. It was also an advertisement to other nations regarding Nigeria's vulnerabilities. It's time to give them something they don't expect. Trust is the key. Professionals can adapt to tactical changes. Surely the manager has practised in more than one formation. The World Cup testifies to that. It's up to Gernot Rohr to make the difference. He must set the tone by trusting in his full squad. Only with that courage can he show the country that Nigeria can lift the AFCON and truly be the giant of Africa they claim to be.