The TOTAL AFCON 2019 in Egypt has finally come to an end with Algeria emerging as champions after triumphing over Senegal by a lone goal in the final. The Super Eagles of Nigeria finished the tournament as the third-best team, meeting their target ( reaching the Semifinals) in the process.
TOP SOCCER BLOG looks at some talking points from the Eagles’ performance in Egypt.
Ahead of the tournament, the major concern among Nigerians is the goalkeeping position in the Eagles’ squad. Since Carl Ikeme was forced to retire from football after being diagnosed with leukemia, finding a capable replacement has been a headache for the manager, Gernot Rohr. Youngster, Francis Uzoho, was favoured at the World Cup in Russia and in subsequent matches thereafter but his performances were unconvincing (this was made worse by his inability to secure regular game time at club level).
Consequently, Rohr opted to use Kaizer Chiefs’ shot-stopper Daniel Akpeyi, as his first choice ‘keeper at the AFCON. Although the 32-year-old made some crucial saves during the tournament, he wasn’t composed, assertive and confident — especially when dealing with aerial balls. He was jittery throughout the tournament and couldn’t organise the defence — this was made evident by Riyad Mahrez’s stoppage-time free-kick in the Semifinal loss to Algeria where the defensive wall was poorly arranged to defend the free-kick. Gernot Rohr and his technical crew have it all to do moving forward, as far as the goalkeeping position is concerned.
Coming into the tournament, the ‘Oyinbo Wall‘ (Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong) which has been the hallmark of the Eagles’ defence since Gernot Rohr took over, was finally broken by the resurgence of Kenneth Omeruo (this was made easier no thanks to Balogun’s lack of game time at club level). Although Nigeria did not concede in the first two matches at the AFCON, critics were quick to point out the quality of the opposition (Burundi and Guinea), and they were proven right as the Eagles’ defensive weaknesses were made apparent by better opposition in the subsequent games where the Eagles conceded seven(7) goals in just four(4) matches (2 against Madagascar, 2 against Cameroon, 1 against South Africa and 2 against Algeria). With age no longer on the side of Balogun(who is already 31), Gernot Rohr should be hunting for replacements for him and to boost the Eagles’ backline going forward. The likes of Valentine Ozornwafor, Tyronne Ebuehi, Semi Ajayi, Stephen Eze, Kingsley Madu, Ikuowem Udo, Musa Muhammad, and other youngsters now have a big opportunity to stake a claim for a spot in the team.
The duo of Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo offer grit, tenacity, dynamism at the base of the Eagles’ midfield but the lack of creativity and guile in the middle of the park was evidently missed at the AFCON —most especially against Algeria in the semifinal. Alex Iwobi showed flashes of brilliance in Egypt, but it was obvious that the Eagles need someone much better in that position. The retirement of John Mikel Obi from international football means finding creative and skillful attacking midfielders is now more of a necessity for the team going forward.
Nigerians have mixed feelings about the Eagles’ attack at the AFCON. Although Odion Ighalo won the golden boot as the tournament’s top scorer, the Eagles’ attackers had a topsy-turvy performance at the tournament — dazzling in some games and blunt in others. Nigeria could do much better considering the pool of attacking talents the nation has across the world and at home. Furthermore, like Mikel’s case, Odion Ighalo’s retirement makes Gernot Rohr having is work cut-out. Extensive scouting is needed to discover more attackers for the team. The Nigerian team is already stocked with attackers already in the likes Victor Osimhen, Isaac Success, Kelechi Iheanacho, Stephen Odey, Paul Onuachu and many more, but the focus of the manager should be on creating intense competition for places in the team thereby ensuring that all the players are on top of their games in the process.
The team has a relatively young squad having been the youngest squad at the World Cup in Russia in 2018, and with many more youngsters coming through. Gernot Rohr and his technical crew now have to roll their sleeves up and improve the team ahead of the next qualifiers and major tournaments. The NFF has done well in sticking with the manager and deciding to send him on a coaching course to improve his skills instead of sacking him(as there aren’t much better replacements available at the moment). Going forward, a show of faith will surely boost the manager’s confidence and also help the team’s long term plans.