The Super Eagles of Nigeria have landed in Mindelo, ready to take on their hosts Cape Verde Islands in a Group C matchday two clash of the 2022 World Cup qualifying series.
Gernot Rohr’s men defeated Liberia on matchday one in Lagos but are ill-equipped for the meeting with the Blue Sharks, who are seeking their first win of the campaign.
Several underlying issues surround this match and Soccernet.ng‘s Imhons Erons points out a few of the game’s most significant talking points.
Nigeria without ten key stars
Due to a combination of a late coronavirus positive result, family issues, and the UK’s strict travel policy on coronavirus red-list countries, the Nigeria national team could miss the talents of ten key players against the Blue Sharks.
Seven players that started against Liberia are already out of this encounter after Ola Aina was excused for personal reasons.
Oghenekaro Etebo, a substitute in that matchup, has left the camp with his UK-based colleagues, including man-of-the-match Kelechi Iheanacho and MVP Alex Iwobi.
Samuel Kalu and Tyronne Ebuehi are also set to miss out following a failed COVID-19 test, leaving head coach Gernot Rohr with only 16 outfield players.
This could be the German gaffer’s biggest challenge since taking charge of the Super Eagles and his most fulfilling win if he manages to inspire his team to victory.
Is the synthetic pitch of the Stadium in Mindelo a concern?
Four days after playing on a waterlogged, battered Teslim Balogun pitch in Lagos, the Super Eagles will be tested on the astroturf of the Estádio Municipal Adérito Sena, Mindelo.
Many of Nigeria’s players will be making their debut on a synthetic surface where the ball will move faster, and the opponents will appear better.
A battle-hardened William Troost-Ekong and Wilfred Ndidi would have coped just fine. But can youngsters Chigozie Awaziem and Innocent Bonke rise to the challenge?
Which is Gernot Rohr’s best starting XI?
Even the least interested of Nigerian fans could have predicted the Super Eagles starting lineup against Liberia. However, the team’s most ardent follower can’t say which way Gernot Rohr will tinker towards on Tuesday.
Will Rohr stick with his preferred 4-2-3-1 or bend towards a 3-4-3 in the absence of his first-choice defenders?
With his experience, Shehu Abdullahi would have been the best man to pair any of Bonke or Kingsley Michael in central midfield.
But Ebuehi’s absence is likely to push Abdullahi back to the right full-back role, which could force the coach to hand greenhorns Michael and Bonke their international debuts under harsh conditions against a confident host.
With Samuel Kalu out, Chidera Ejuke can play the Iwobi role, while Onyekuru or Ahmed Musa can fill in on the right side of the attack.
The Super Eagles remain well-stocked in the striker’s department, though, as Rohr can unleash Victor Osimhen, Paul Onuachu, and Terem Moffi either singly or in a pair against the Blue Sharks.
Is it 100 or 98 appearances for Ahmed Musa?
The media space is awash with the reports that Ahmed Musa will become only the third Nigerian to play a century of matches for the Super Eagles if he makes an appearance against Cape Verde.
The former Kano Pillars forward deserves all the accolades coming his way after a decade of committed and dedicated service to fatherland.
It may, however, be a celebration arriving a tad too early. In the eyes of FIFA, Musa is about to earn his 98th cap for the Super Eagles as two of his previous games were not recognised by the football-governing body.
The first is the 2018 World Cup qualifier against Algeria, where Nigeria fielded an ineligible player Abdullahi Shehu. The match was declared to be forfeited with three goals and three points simply awarded to the North Africans.
The other is a June 2017 friendly tie versus Togo, where Rohr utilised three more substitutes than the FIFA-stipulated limit.
One way or the other, the odds are in favour of 28-year-old Musa eclipsing the 101-cap record of Joseph Yobo and Vincent Enyeama before he hangs his boots.