The Flying Eagles defence held out nicely at the U20 AFCON in March and now going into this month’s U20 World Cup, the midfield has enjoyed much-needed upgrade but concerns still remain about who will score the goals in Argentina.
Coach Ladan Bosso favours the 4-3-3 formation – a solid back-four, three midfielders, two wingers and a centre-forward.
At the U20 AFCON, the team’s defence of man-mountain Nathanial Nwosu in goal (later replaced by Chijioke Aniagboso), fullbacks Solomon Agbalaka and Augustine Njoku as well as central defenders Daniel Bemeyi, Benjamin Frederick and Abel Ogwuche got the job done.
They only let in two goals – Senegal’s winner in an opening group game and the only goal by Gambia that stopped them from reaching the championship game.
The suspension of skipper Bemeyi after two bookings allowed Sweden-based Ogwuche to stake a big claim for first-team place in the heart of the back-four.
By the team’s final match in Egypt – a third-place clash against Tunisia – the Flying Eagles had settled for a preferred defence of goalkeeper Aniagboso, Bemeyi at right back for the limited Njoku, leftback Agbalaka and the central defence partnership of Frederick and Ogwuche.
The midfield, which was built around the dynamism of Daniel Daga, struggled to deliver in Egypt when the Dakkada FC midfielder suffered a knee injury in the first half of the opening game against Senegal.
Schoolboy star Onuche Ogbelu was trusted with the responsibility to anchor the engine room, while Mohammed Aminu and Samson Lawal were expected to create the chances for the attack.
The Flying Eagles may have scored eight goals at the AFCON, but most of these efforts were courtesy of individual brilliance of the likes of Ibrahim Mohammed ‘Beji’ and Jude Sunday.
In Argentina, the midfield has got a massive upgrade. Out go Ogbelu and the ineffective Mohammed Aminu and in come fit-again Daga, AC Milan U19 star Victor Eletu and Bulgaria-based Tochukwu Nadi.
Daga, Eletu and Nadi are defensive midfielders by trade, but all have the capacity to join the attack as they are comfortable on the ball.
Samson Lawal has rediscovered the form and confidence that endeared him to Bosso from the WAFU B qualifiers in Niger Republic last May.
He is a lot trimmer than he was at the AFCON after he had combed Europe in search of a club soon after the qualifying tournament in Niger.
This new midfield could well be what will define how far Nigeria go at this World Cup as the attack will be without a proven goal scorer.
‘Beji’ from the wings was the team’s top scorer at both the qualifiers (three goals) and AFCON (two goals), but the team will need more for a successful World Cup campaign.
Strikers Olamilekan Adams and Francis Ayuba flopped at the AFCON and were duly not given a second chance by Bosso.
KAA Gent striker Ahmed Abdullahi showed a glimpse of what he is capable against Tunisia in the third-place match, but he tried to do too much before then and questions were also asked about his attitude.
Botev Plodiv centre-forward Emmanuel Umeh and the untested Mavlon FC striker Salem Fago have a lifetime opportunity to score the goals for the Flying Eagles to soar high in Argentina.
Will they grab it?
I like to see dynamism in the choice of players. Changes makes players to stand up and show their mettle. In the same vein Bosso should not be fixated with his 4.3.3 system depending on a good analysis ofbhis opponent. I think the best defence is in attack with a lot of care not to suffer backlash. The strike should be sharpened to instill fear in their opponent.