Two outsiders Gernot Rohr needs to consider

Two outsiders Gernot Rohr needs to consider

Prior to last month’s twin friendlies against Poland andA�Serbia, Gernot Rohr probably had a fair idea of what the core of his squad going to theA�FIFA World CupA�this summer would be.

After those matches, he most definitely would have had anywhere between 15 to 18 of his final 23-man squad sorted in his head.

This view was reinforced by Rohr’s reluctance — somewhat to the surprise and consternation of a few fans and media — of barely giving much playing time to newcomers like Junior Ajayi. Defender Chidozie Awaziem also only got a start because Leon Balogun suffered a late injury.

Despite the consistency in personnel, both games came off as dire eyesores distinguished mostly by three key issues: a lack of cohesion, bluntness in the final third, and a goalkeeping inadequacy.

While the current personnel may well need just a little time together to do the reboot necessary to plug those holes, some additional personnel could be the answer. Like these two for instance …

Two outsiders Gernot Rohr needs to consider

From a purely numbers point of view, the Super Eagles didn’t do too badly in World Cup qualifying.

They scored 12 goals in total in their run to securing the first of Africa’s five World Cup spots, which was second only to DR Congo, who scored 14 but lost out to Tunisia by one point.

But to put that into some context, they could have qualified for Russia with two games to spare if the strikers had taken advantage of an early plethora of opportunities in Yaounde.

In their three friendlies since qualifying, they have also scored five goals. Again, not a bad tally, but still with much room left for improvement.

As things stand, Odion Ighalo is Rohr’s lead striker. That the German found it necessary to test out Ahmed Musa in that position against Serbia could indicate that he needs a back-up or a different, more pacy alternative.

Obafemi Martins offers a high impact solution. At 33, he has seen and taken some wear and tear, and can be ruled out as a full 90-minute player. But he offers an experienced, pacy, multi-functional and clinical impact substitute for any and all of the three wide attacking positions.

Also, he netted seven goals in 13 appearances for Shanghai Shenhua last season, effectively a goal every other game. Similarly, Ighalo scored 15 in 27 matches.

So far this season, Martins has played one game and hit a hat-trick. Each of those three goals were quintessential Martins. Each had something different — pace, strength, balance and an unerring finish — making a strong, on-field case for at least a place in the training camp. Especially if he keeps up the strike-rate.

Age will be one of his downsides, but of course the experience and guidance he will bring to the younger players could be a counterweight.

The main issue would be whether or not his presence disrupts the current dressing-room harmony. If it does, he can be cut early before any damage is done. If not, he brings a world of options to a frontline in serious need of a kick up the backside.

Francis Uzoho’s splendid international debut against Argentina, all 45 minutes of it, saw him instantly installed by many fans as the Super Eagles first-choice goalkeeper going into these round of friendly matches.

As a matter of fact, many fans actually had him in goal for the World Cup.

But half-a-game is a dangerously low sample size to hand an international starting job to a player — any player — let alone a goalkeeper.

Rohr was experienced enough to know that, and sent his goalkeeping coach Enrico Pionetti to the youngster’s club to work with him, and then started him in both friendly games. By the end of the 180 minutes, the teenager’s inexperience and shortcomings were as obvious as his undoubted talents and potential for greatness.

There was a general consensus that he was not ready to be theA�World Cup number one.

Interim first-choice Ikechukwu Ezenwa does not seem to have the full trust of fans or the coaching staff, and Daniel Akpeyi’s struggles are well documented.

Like Martins, Dele Aiyenugba offers an experienced, big-game alternative to explore during the training camp. He was in the 2010 World Cup squad, and has been consistent starter with Hapoel Ashkelon in Israel.

Admittedly, age and the league he plays in will count in the minus column, but goalkeeping is about consistency and Aiyenugba not only has experience on his side, but has bags of game-time at a decent European level on his side.

Unlike Martins, there is not even a hint of dressing-room concerns about Aiyenugba, and Rohr will have enough time and at least one friendly game to judge his suitability and competence before he names his final 23.

Arnold Njoku

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