The final squad list of the Super Eagles for the mundial has just been released, throwing up a couple of surprises and generating no small measure of controversy.
Out of Lagerbackâ€™s initial 30 players, seven players were dropped. These included, as perhaps was to be expected the two home based players, goalkeeper Akpan Bassey and defender Terna Suswan. Also left out of the party were defender Onyekachi Apam, and forwards, Peter Utaka, Brown Ideye, Victor Anichebe and Ike Uche.
As I have stated earlier, it was perhaps understandable that the home based players could not make the list.The goalkeeping department of the Super Eagles has remained pretty stable for some time now and In Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide and Dele Aiyenugba, Lagerback can count on three experienced campaigners and shouldnâ€™t have any problems. Terna Suswan put up an assured, confident performance in his debut against Saudi Arabia but perhaps it was felt that he lacked enough experience of matches at this level and his exclusion can be explained. For Peter Utaka and Brown Ideye, there simply wasnâ€™t sufficient time for them to make any kind of impact( Ideye only arrived the Eagleâ€™s camp on the eve of the match against Colombia) and so Lagerbackâ€™s decision to exclude them can also be easily justified. Onyekachi Apam was seemingly unable to shake off the lingering effects of an injury he recently picked up and on that basis,his absence is also explainable even though one would have thought that his ability to play both as a centre back and a right back might have given the technical crew some pause considering the slight paucity of options in both those positions with the Super Eagles.
However, if , as it seems likely, Lagerbackâ€™s intention was only to prosecute the world cup with players who are fully fit, his exclusion is also understandable.
What has caused the greatest consternation, however, is the rationale behind the Swedeâ€™s decision to leave out two of the teamâ€™s potentially most lethal strikerâ€™s in Ike Uche and Victor Anichebe as well as the decision to include players like John Utaka and perhaps Nwankwo Kanu. While Iâ€™m an ardent fan of Nwankwo Kanu, the truth of the matter is that his best years, to all intents and purposes are definitely behind him. His ability to come off the bench and occasionally turn a game on its head could have counted in his favour, but if he is to spend the duration of the World Cup as a non-playing captain, his inclusion on the Roster is to say the least, rather perplexing. Even if his role is largely to be that of an elder statesman of the team, providing leadership and helping to build team unity, one would have thought he could still have played this role without necessarily being a member of the playing staff. As for John Utaka, Iâ€™m completely at a loss. Heâ€™s contributed next to nothing at Portsmouth this season and his inclusion on the initial 30 man roster was one of the few,if not the only reason for raised eyebrows. This, added to the fact that he offered absolutely nothing when he came on as a substitute in the games against Saudi Arabia and Colombia means that bemusement is the only response I can offer to his being on the list.
Like I stated earlier before I began to digress, the decisions that have caused the most consternation have been the exclusions of Victor Anichebe and Ike Uche. Uche was Nigeriaâ€™s highest goal scorer in the course of the qualifiers before a horrific injury kept him out of the Eagles campaign at the Cup of Nations as well as virtually the entire season for his club side. However, he had begun to make a good recovery and while no one is saying he could have been 100% fit he would have provided some much needed invention and pace to a Super Eagles team that often seems bereft of ideas. Anichebeâ€™s absence was also a bit of a surprise considering that he was one of the few bright spots in the match against Saudi Arabia and seemed capable of providing some options either in Attack or on the left side of midfield. His non-inclusion wouldnâ€™t have been such a big deal however, if it wasnâ€™t for the inexplicable inclusion of a player like John Utaka.
On the bright side, however, the Eagles showed quite a bit of improvement in the course of their match against Colombia. There seemed to be marked improvements in their will for the battle, cohesion and organization when compared to the game against Saudi Arabia. The passing and movement also seemed to have returned to the Nigerian game and there was a much more evident desire by the players to play for each other. For once, the entire team defended as a unit thus making the job of defending much easier for the defenders. They in turn were more able to join in and plug any leakages from midfield before serious incursions developed since they seemed confident in the abilities of their colleagues to cover for them.
The performances of Haruna Lukman and Sanni Keita were also very gratifying on an individual level. Lukman is providing quite the buzzing, positive and incisive edge to a Super Eagles midfield that had become too pedestrian and predictable. His confidence and bravado as well as the fact that heâ€™s much more inclined to give penetrating passes to supply the Eagles Forwards are providing the best indication that perhaps we have finally found someone who can come close to filling the Out sized boots left by the inimitable Jay Jay Okocha. How Lagerback can combine his undeniable talents with those of John Obi Mikel, it remains to be seen, but itâ€™s becoming clearer that he may just be the key to unlocking the Eagles attacking potential at this and future World Cups.
If there was a source of lingering concern and this hasnâ€™t been helped by Lagerbackâ€™s selection, it has been the lack of options for the Super Eagles in the final third. Yakubu Aiyegbeni continues to be the focal point of the Eagles attack, but as has been noted severally, in the past he has generally flattered to deceive whenever he dons the Colours of his national team. Obafemi Martins continues to huff and puff and generally threaten to unleash the flood gates but his goal conversion rate continues to be a source for concern. Osaze Odemwingie always gives his all for the cause, but he too is hardly a prolific goalscorer and has always been more effective operating from a wider role with the National team rather than from the more central, second striker position that Lagerback seems to favour.
All in all, thereâ€™s still room for some cautious optimism but I rather feel Lagerback has made his first but hopefully not fatal missteps at the helm of the Super Eagles.