Gernot Rohr’s striking conundrum was one of the hot topics on this week’s African Football HQ podcast, as Ed Dove and Malek Shafei preview Nigeria vs Benin.
It’s a critical international break for the Super Eagles, who have much to prove after last year’s bizarre double-header against Sierra Leone.
Both sides played out a remarkable 4-4 draw in Nigeria—even thought the hosts had led 4-0—before the Super Eagles were then held 0-0 in Freetown as they were made to wait to secure qualification.
Nigeria are still favourites to get the job done, but they do face a tricky bout away at Benin on Saturday—the Squirrels demonstrated their ability to neutralise bigger sides at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations—before a home game against Lesotho.
Even if things go wrong in Porto-Novo, the Eagles will be overwhelming favourites against the Crocodiles, but would they really want to leave qualification to the last matchday?
One of the biggest decisions facing Rohr heading into this one is how he organises his striking options.
Victor Osimhen is his nominal first-choice—and has been since Odion Ighalo’s retirement—but the Napoli man has scored just once since mid-November, and hasn’t looked at his best in recent months.
By contrast, Kelechi Iheanacho at Leicester City is currently in the form of his life, having had a hand in 10 goals in his last nine games—scoring nine in the process.
The striker has struggled for consistency at the King Power Stadium, and was even cut from the 2019 Afcon squad after Rohr decided to look elsewhere.
However, considering his current form—he’s one of the world’s in-form hitmen—he surely can’t be overlooked for a starting berth come the weekend’s fixture.
His performances, in particular, against Sheffield United and Manchester United, have highlighted other more subtle areas of Iheanacho’s game, but can Rohr harness these qualities and bring them to bear for the national side?
Elsewhere, Paul Onuachu is an intriguing option for the German coach.
The towering frontman is enjoying a magnificent campaign in Belgium, having netted 26 goals so far this term, but he struggled during the last international break, failing to translate his club form to the international career.
As a Plan B, he could be a superb option, but it’s clear that the team would need to adapt their style to play to his strengths.
There’s no doubt that Nigeria have some quality offensive options, not to mention the likes of Moses Simon, Samuel Chukwueze, Joe Aribo and Alex Iwobi, but can the Eagles get the most out of these talents and fire their way to the Afcon?