The long awaited return of the Super Eagles to action since the COVID-19 out break didn’t quite play out as most would have hoped, a narrow 1-0 defeat to Algeria, Africa’s best team, seemed overly flattering of a side that looked slightly disjointed for the better part of 90minutes.
Only a few clear cut chances were created, so the result reflected the game, but Manager Gernot Rohr did not sound too worried about the outcome, what perhaps would have distressed the 67 year-old gaffer is the team’s bland attacking play and an apparent lack of cutting edge.
If one thing was clear on Friday night at the Worthersee Stadion it was that the Eagles need a potent striker and that department is short of any reliable back up in the absence of the 21 year-old Victor Osimhen.
During the build up to Friday’s friendly international, one of two lined up for the Eagles ahead of the AFCON 2021 double header against Sierra Leone, Rohr was hit by a double injury blow, then a triple slam.
Joe Aribo, who plays in the Scottish Premiership for Rangers, picked up an ankle injury in September and isn’t expected to be fit until after six weeks – return date is set for the final week of October.
Barely two weeks later another midfielder and quite possibly the engine of this Eagles’ side, Wilfred Ndidi, was ruled out of action for at least 12 weeks with a torn adductor in the knee, Leicester City Manager Brendan Rodgers inundated the media with a forlorn countenance.
Then days before the game against Algeria, Striker Victor Osimhen was excused by the Head Coach after SSC Napoli players were stopped from leaving the City in keeping with the COVID-19 protocol after two players tested positive.
Whilst their deputies – including a make shift Center Half – looked alien in the roles they were handed against Algeria whether it was stopping Mohamed Benrahma’s intelligent runs or breaking Riyad Mahrez’s clever incision passes, and on the offensive side, driving the buildup to Nigeria’s attacking play, one prominent aspect of the team’s shortcomings on the night was that it showed little assertion, presence and threat in the opposition’s box.
As badly as both Aribo and Ndidi have been missed at club level, their absence from the National team on Friday showed that perhaps the duo and Osimhen are key to Nigeria’s pursuit for an AFCON ticket as well as the world cup in 2022.
Prior to Friday’s game, Nigeria had scored 6 goals in two games and have not failed to register a goal under Gernot Rohr’s management since the 2-0 defeat to Madagascar at the 2019 AFCON (8 games – 16 goals scored).
Rohr handed Paul Onuachu a sixth cap, despite a disappointing show at the AFCON for the Forward, nothing changed in Austria and it only amplified calls for his exclusion from future games.
On the bench, Rohr had the options of Kelechi Iheanacho and Cyriel Dessers. The former was handed 23 minutes in his first game since 2018 but he also couldn’t impact the game.
Dessers was a spectator on the Eagles bench and made to wait a while longer for his international debut, which actually makes it difficult to analyze how the 25 year-old will fair when he eventually gets minutes.
The list of Strikers waiting for their chance in the Super Eagles isn’t very long, in fact it’s a short unimpressive resume out there.
As early as 2019, Osimhen was third choice behind Odion Ighalo and Paul Onuachu, he quickly became the replacement for the 30 year-old who finished the tournament as top goalscorer.
Osimhen has scored four goals in five matches, the most by any player since Nigeria’s third place playoff at the 2019 AFCON.
His aggressiveness, goal poaching instincts and importantly his goals were missed, a concern Rohr will definitely need to address when Nigeria face Tunisia on Tuesday.
Until then though it is obvious now that Nigeria needs “sharp strikers” on the bench as deputies to Osimhen. Players who will fight for a starter’s shirt rather be contented with sub roles.