The Super Eagles' World Cup preparations will step up a gear with this week's friendly against Scotland at Craven Cottage that will signal which players will make the final 23
By Okeowo Destiny
By Okeowo Destiny
Nigeria will engage Scotland on Wednesday as part of their preparations for the World Cup in Brazil. Fulham’s home ground Craven Cottage, which will host the friendly, is fast turning into a second home for the Super Eagles. The stadium has welcomed the team on a number of occasions recently, the 2-2 draw against Italy last November being freshest in the memory.
The teams come into this game with differing targets.
The Tartan Terriers failed to earn a ticket to Brazil, and have turned their attentions to Euro 2016, the qualifiers for which will begin after the World Cup. With this object in view, Gordon Strachan has handed a maiden call-up to Derby County duo Craig Forsyth and Chris Martin, who were instrumental in the Rams’ ultimately failed promotion push. The former Celtic manager will seek to sustain a recent upturn in the team’s fortunes, a run that has seen them post impressive results against Croatia, Macedonia and Poland within the last year.
On the other hand, Stephen Keshi will be looking to perfect his strategy and pare down the playing personal before setting out for the Mundial. His squad list of 30 will have to be whittled down to 23 by the 2nd of June, and this will surely be the last opportunity for certain fringe players to impress and win a place before the cull.
Strachan will be glad to have a fit Darren Fletcher restored to the line-up, but will have to make a decision on whom to play upfront, with Steven Fletcher out injured. Expect Everton’s Steven Naismith to get the nod to pair Ross McCormack upfront on the back of some impressive performances for the Toffees this past season.
Strachan | Looking ahead to Euro 2016
There is of course the subplot of Watford’s Ikechi Anya, son of a Nigerian father but born in Glasgow, who will take up the right wing position for Scotland. He is a delightful throwback to the bold, flying wingers to which the Nigerian populace has become accustomed to through the years, and hopefully he will get a healthy reception from the Nigerian contingent in the ground.
The precedent set by Nigeria fans during the friendly against Italy, however, suggests not. The last time the Super Eagles were at Craven Cottage, Angelo Ogbonna, the son of Nigerian parents, received a decidedly mixed reception from Nigeria fans.
For the Super Eagles, a few questions linger.
The last friendly in March against Mexico saw Keshi play around with a 4-4-1-1 system, as well as including a cameo for Michael Uchebo. I had high praise for his performance, and it was apparently enough to impress the technical crew, who have included him in the provisional squad. Will this game witness a continuation of the counter-attacking 4-4-1-1, or a return to the 4-3-3 that headlined the Confederations Cup last year?
Also interesting is the inclusion of Joel Obi. The Parma man is blessed with skill and tenacity, as well as a decent turn of pace. What role could he play in this game? Ogenyi Onazi and John Obi Mikel have needed a partner in midfield for quite a while, and it could well be that Joel is the one who supplies the answer. A further point of interest is his ability to also play at wing-back, having done so under previous Inter manager Claudio Ranieri. There is of course quite a difference between playing as a wing-back and as a full-back, but with Juwon Oshaniwa hardly inspiring confidence as Elderson Echiejile’s deputy, it is a nice option to have depth-wise.
Joel Obi | The Most Intriguing Inclusion
Another concern will be the state of Victor Moses. The Chelsea winger has spent a forgettable season on the sidelines at Liverpool, and it remains to be seen in what state he is physically. Moses is a vital cog in the team and you would reckon his place is safe, but the coaches must take advantage of these warm-up games to get him back to something approaching full match fitness. A perk will be his comparative freshness, having played so little football this season.
The likes of Nosa Igiebor, Uche Nwofor, Nnamdi Oduamadi, Michel Babatunde, Kunle Odunlami, Sunday Mba, Ejike Uzoenyi and Reuben Gabriel will hope to get a chance to prove their match fitness and worth ahead of the June 2 cull, and we might be in for a large turnover in terms of the starting line-up from the previous friendly against Mexico. Whoever of the above does not get a run-out at some point is a safe bet to be cut when the final 23 is announced.
The Super Eagles’ pre-World Cup schedule will also encompass friendlies in the United States against Greece and the home nation, before their opening World Cup game against Iran on June 16 in the Arena da Baixada, Curitiba.