With 83 days to the start of the World Cup 2018 in Russia, Nigerians will have a feel of what to expect from Gernot Rohr and his wards at the Mundial this night when stand-in Captain, Ogenyi Onazi leads glory seeking Super Eagles in an international friendly with Poland at the 42-000 capacity Stadion Wroclaw.
This is the first official match between Nigeria and Poland at the senior level. It is also the first Grade ‘A’ game for Eagles as they begin final preparations for the battle in Russia in summer.
Without any doubt, Poland has FIFA World Cup pedigree, having come third twice – in 1974 and 1982. The present generation led by inspirational Captain, Robert Lewandowski, has all the qualities of past Polish great teams. Their performance in Group E of the European World Cup qualifiers- five points ahead of second-placed Denmark and scoring 28 goals in six matches- stands Poland out as a good test for the Super Eagles.
The Bayern Munich star striker who has scored 51 goals for his country – an all-time goals record for Poland, may prove too efficient if Eagles backline fail in the task of keeping him and fellow Polish forwards in check.
From the Rear, Rohr have the rare chance to throw his preferred choice for Eagles’ Number 1 jersey, youngster Francis Uzoho into the battle for baptism. In the absence of substantive first choice goalkeeper, Carl Ikeme, who is down with leukemia, the gamble with Ikechukwu Ezenwa paid off during the African qualifiers but the World Cup appears a bigger stage. Daniel Akpeyi who was expected to step up to claim the shirt after Ikeme was diagnosed with the ailment has fallen short of every test placed before him. His woeful performance during the first game of the AFCON 2019 qualifier against South Africa in Uyo was a minus for him.
It is a popular dictum that you don’t change a winning team but with the World Cup, it is a different kettle of fish. The warm up matches are veritable ground for coaches to try out different options and an experienced gaffer like Rohr will not fail to take the chance.
In the left back position, it is an opportunity to try out new boy, Brian Idowu, to see how he can effectively fit into the back four that has right back Shehu Abdullahi as well as central defenders Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong.
In the middle where the problem of the team has remained largely unresolved since Austin Jay Jay Okocha retired, the game in Wroclaw will no doubt show the amount of work done so far for the cohesion of that depart of the senior national team. Defensive midfielders should be the pair of Wilfred Ndidi and stand-in captain Ogenyi Onazi. Up field, Victor Moses and Alex Iwobi are expected to get starting shirts to run the wings.
In Rohr’s preferred 4-3-2-1 formation, improved Kelechi Iheanacho is expected to play behind Odion Ighalo in the attack. And if it proves ineffective, the Franco-German coach has promised to try out other formations. The score-line however remains unimportant as Poland rated 6th in FIFA rankings is miles ahead of Nigeria in 52nd spot.
Eagles likely starting XI – 4-2-3-1: Francis Uzoho – Brian Idowu, Leon Balogun, William Troost, Shehu Abdullahi – Wilfred Ndidi, Ogenyi Onazi (skipper) – Victor Moses, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho – Odion Ighalo
Poland v Nigeria (8.45pm)
Argentina v Italy (8.45pm)
Germany v Spain (8.45pm)
Holland v England (8.45pm)
Turkey v Rep. of Ireland (8.30pm)
Japan v Mali (1.20 am)
Russia v Brazil (5.00 pm)
Bulgaria v Bos-Herze (6.00pm)
Portugal v Egypt (8.45pm)
France v Colombia (9.00pm)
Greece v Switzerland (7.00pm)
Serbia v Morocco (8. 30pm)