Poland’s most influential sports newspaper Przeglad Sportowy spoke to sportandstudy.org editorial staff, Ifeanyi Emmanuel, ahead of Poland’s international friendly with Nigeria at the Municipal Stadium on Friday night.
Excerpts from the interview :
Who do you consider as the greatest star of the team today?
ANS : The team’s biggest star and most influential player has to be Chelsea wing-back Victor Moses. He plays as a winger and striker for the Nigeria team, when he plays well, the team plays well. They are always looking to pass the ball to him as he is the most creative player in the team. Last few games for the Super Eagles, he has taken up more defensive duties, tracking back to help the defenders when he’s not with the ball.
But there are other important players like the captain Mikel, who is unavoidably absent for the game with Poland. Leicester City midfielder Wilfred Ndidi is in top form heading into the friendly game but has not played to his full potential with the national team like he does for his club. Then there is Mainz defender Leon Balogun, he’s the most experienced defender in the team.
What do you and people of Nigeria expect from the team at the World Cup? Is this team better than in 2014, 2010?
ANS : Once again Nigeria are in a tough group, so making it to the last sixteen will be an achievement. Their first game against Croatia will be the most crucial, if they can get a win, then I see them in the knockout rounds.
On paper, the current squad is not better than the 2010 and 2014 World Cup squads that had experienced players such as Kanu, Taye Taiwo, Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins, Joseph Yobo and Vincent Emyeama.
The 2018 team is full of young players Iheanacho, Uzoho, Iwobi, Aina, Ebuehi, Awaziem, Ndidi who are U23s.
Nigeria will have one of the youngest teams at the World Cup. Their strength is that they are a highly mobile team dangerous on the break. They rely mostly on team work and expect Victor Moses to create the chances.
Are there any star players missing from the squad? I know about Mikel and his unfortunate absence but I mean: are Rohr’s choices generally popular among the fans?
ANS : Twenty eight players were named to the roster for the games in March. John Obi Mikel has not traveled to Poland, he is China trying to renew his work permit. Las Palmas midfielder Oghenekaro Etebo has been told to rest an injury by his club doctors so has not traveled to Wroclaw.
Chippa United goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi is unlikely to make it to Poland as he has yet to pick up his passport from the embassy, so only two goalkeepers will be with the squad after Ikechukwu Ezenwa arrived on Wednesday. Junior Ajayi, a striker, is also out of the game due to a visa hitch.
Nigeria has no top, top player playing for a top European club like we saw in the 90s. The coach has picked the best team at his disposal. There were calls for Torino’s Joel Obi to be included in the team and he has been recalled after close to four years in the international wilderness.
The Federation and Gernot Rohr have been trying to convince players with dual nationality to represent Nigeria, Tammy Abraham (Chelsea), Jordan Torunarigha (Hertha BSC) and Kevin Akpoguma (Hoffenheim) but have not been successful so far.
Which position is the weakest? I suppose there is a problem with goalkeepers.
ANS : Yes we have a goalkeeper problem due to Carl Ikeme’s unfortunate illness. Vincent Enyeama would have been recalled to the team but he has been inactive at his club Lille for close to a year, so we are left with very, very untested and unreliable goalkeepers.
A goalkeeper with less than three first-team games for Deportivo de La Coruña, 19-year-old Francis Uzoho, is being tipped to be in goal at the World Cup and could start against Poland.
The older goalkeepers in the team Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Daniel Akpeyi are prone to errors, they are simply not World Cup materials.
There is also the problem with the right and left-backs. They lack positional awareness, don’t know when to attack and when they do so don’t know when to return to their positions.
The first-choice right-back Abdullahi Shehu is not disciplined and teams can exploit this weakness, then the left-back Echiejile is too slow and does not know when to initiate an attack from his position.
Just as they are good on the counter, they can also be punished as the forward players like Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses have that tendency to give the ball away cheaply.