Gernot Rohr divided opinions after the Super Eagles’ campaign at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) where Nigeria finished third with the bronze medal. It was far from a convincing campaign from the Super Eagles who played without urgency and fluidity.
Rohr’s critics wanted him gone while the opposite camp believed he had done well with the Super Eagles who were still a work in progress.
The Franco-German remains in charge of the Super Eagles who have entered a new era. With the exits of former captain Mikel Obi and Odion Ighalo who finished as the highest goalscorer at AFCON 2019, Rohr has been handed a window to usher in players for this era.
With some exciting young names in action, Rohr’s Super Eagles played out a 2-2 draw with Ukraine in a friendly game on Tuesday, September 10 with a performance that showed lots of promise for the new era.
Replacing Ighalo was one of the tasks that the new era presented for Rohr and after some unconvincing performances from Paul Onuachu, Rohr went for Victor Osimhen who had started his debut season brightly in France with Lille.
Osimhen was almost perfect against Ukraine, tormenting the defence all through his stay on the pitch with his pace, movement and hold-up play. Even more exciting, he was part of a fluid front-four that included Alex Iwobi, Samuel Chukwueze and Samuel Kalu.
Playing from the wings, Chukwueze and Kalu offered pace and penetration and along with Iwobi, they had enough pace and trickery to get past the Ukrainian defence several times.
In a frenetic first half, the quadruplets ran the Ukrainian defence to the ground. At every attack, they went forward with pace and incision that was so pleasing to see.
Joe Aribo, the midfielder who was making his debut also caught the eye with his energy, drive and penetrative runs into the opposition penalty box. His late runs into the box gave him the goal in the fourth minute and he should have scored again in the first half if not for a smart save by the Ukrainian goalkeeper.
He also made a case for a place in the Super Eagles with his impressive outing although he failed in his role to protect the defence from midfield. This was Super Eagles’ biggest weakness from the game on Tuesday.
Oghenekaro Etebo from the defensive midfield role failed to protect the back four. Both Etebo and Aribo didn’t show positional discipline to close down the Ukrainians who had lots of spaces. Rohr would seek solace in the fact that he was without Wilfred Ndidi who is one of the best defensive midfielders in world football.
The deficiencies in defence can also be overlooked with the fact that Rohr was without three of his top defenders. Semi Ajayi was tried out in central defence alongside William Troost-Ekong but the West Brom man was heavily exposed.
Goalkeeper Francis Uzoho was brilliant in the game, his best in the Super Eagles shirt but ultimately, it is the performance of the front-four that has had everyone excited with what's to come.
Of course, they are far from the finished product. Still very young and raw, Iwobi, Chukwueze, Kalu and Osimhen could struggle against experienced and top oppositions, but as they showed against Ukraine, they possess the skills and talent to do great things with the Super Eagles.
For their inexperience, Rohr has the time to work with them. With no major tournament until 2021, the Super Eagles can keep fine-tuning with good friendly games like the one against Ukraine.
Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) over to you.