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Nigeria 2014: The Unanswered Questions

19 March 2014, 17:12

Abuja - With less than three months to go until Nigeria’s opening World Cup game against Iran, a number of unanswered questions still exist for Stephen Keshi and his Super Eagles.

I, along with many of you, had hoped that the recent international friendly against Mexico would answer some of the issues that still linger around the squad and the Big Boss’s approach.

Unfortunately, the friendly largely failed to elucidate the watching world on some of the enduring questions that Nigeria face ahead of the World Cup.

In fact, it was more a case of “like a bathroom wall, the more you look, the more you see” as, rather than questions being answered, a whole new set of potential problems now swirl ahead of the trip to Brazil.

I would love to hear your suggestions on these issues, so please, take a moment to respond in the comments section and let the team here at KickOffNigeria know how you see each of these ‘questions’ panning out.

Who Will Score the Goals?

Okay, okay, so the immediate answer here should be apparent to everyone. Who will score Nigeria’s goals? Well, Emmanuel Emenike will, right? Well yes, he will, as he has done so often, and so regularly, for Nigeria in the past.
But is that enough?

The dismissal of Ideye Brown and the inclusion of new boys Michael Uchebo and Imoh Ezekiel was a revealing window into Keshi’s concerns about the team’s ability to produce goals.

Beyond Emenike, who was the side’s saviour against Ethiopia in the World Cup play-off, and who scored four goals during the Cup of Nations, it is hard to see who can be considered a regular source of goals for the Super Eagles.

This may well be the issue that is making the Big Boss fret as Brazil draws near. It is one he cannot afford to ignore ahead of the World Cup – solutions, however, do not come without their own individual concerns.

Will a lack of playing time affect some of the squad’s Big Names?

This issue has emerged from the shadows and now, with its ogre’s sneer, represents a genuine concern for Keshi and his staff.

It is a problem that has come in the form of Nemanja Matic, of Layvin Kurzawa, and of Raheem Sterling. Too many of Nigeria’s would-be superstars are playing second fiddle at club level and not receiving the game time that might be considered necessary preparation for the World Cup.

To a point, this might not necessarily be a grave concern; many a fine World Cup side have, after all, been derailed by a fatigue and burnout.

No danger of that for Keshi’s current collective but, as was evidenced against Mexico, the lack of minutes has left the likes of John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses battling ring rust ahead of the world’s greatest sporting event.

How will Keshi configure the midfield?

The fact that this concern is even being raised is, probably, a good sign.

Nigeria’s preparation for their last two forays to the World Cup were both undermined by issues graver than this and many of us would probably accept Keshi facing one key tactical conundrum ahead of the sojourn to Brazil.

The identity of the would-be ‘Third Man’ or Keshi’s alternate midfield configuration remain mysteries and with no more pre-squad-naming friendlies left to play, they will remain works in progress until Keshi has at least identified his 30.

Against Mexico, the Big Boss appeared to be leaning towards a 4-4-1-1 formation, while the inclusion or continued ignoring of the likes of Sunday Mba, Nosa Igiebor and Nnamdi Oduamadi might also give clues as to the manager’s ultimate intention here.

Can any of the new additions secure a starting role?

By ‘new additions’ in the title, I refer not just to the likes of Ramon Azeez, Imoh Ezekiel and Michael Uchebo – all of whom made their international debuts against Mexico – but also to the likes of Ejike Uzoenyi, who was recalled to the squad for the friendly after a long period of absence.

Keshi’s decision to shuffle the pack ahead of that match at least demonstrated the manager’s keenness to assess a broad range of options ahead of the trip to Brazil.

His move to start Uchebo was a sign of great faith in the Belgium-based youngster, who, up to that point, had largely been overlooked by the majority of the media covering Nigerian football. In his brief cameo he showed the energy and creativity to suggest that he might be a genuine option for the Super Eagles behind Emenike in a 4-4-1-1 formation.

I was one journalist who had often taken the occasion to call for the inclusion of Imoh Ezekiel but, in truth, when his international recognition finally came, my attention had moved on to Olympiakos’s Michael Olaitan.

Had Leon Balogun not been injured so unfortunately, he might have been a contender for a starting berth but, as it stands, the Dusseldorf man needs an incredible change in fortunes just to make the plane.

It may be, then, that Ramon Azeez, championed by several of my colleagues as a midfield anchorman, is best-placed to force his way into Keshi’s starting plans.

Will Keshi stay true to his philosophy?

Keshi is a man who has built his reputation upon the bold and brave decision to jettison the underachieving and the tarnished to construct a side upon the young, the hungry, the uncelebrated and the inexperienced.

Up to a point, this approach has served him well; his Super Eagles elect did, after all, bring home the continental crown and seal World Cup qualification.

However, as the tournament approaches, the creaks appear to be emerging in Keshi’s masterplan.

Some of the deficiencies in the current squad may well find answers in some of those ignored by the Big Boss, not least Osaze Odemwingie, who is performing effectively at Stoke City.

Keshi’s decision to recall Joseph Yobo for the Mexico friendly was a first step on the potentially sloppy slope to ultimate compromise. Who else will follow?

- Kick Off Nigeria

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