*Martins, Samuel reply Rohr with goals
*Umar, Awoniyi, Olanrewaju too
*Rare start for Success, Ideye missing
*Contrasting fortunes for Ighalo, Iheanacho
*Scramble for World Cup places intensifies
By Clement Nwankpa Jr
Days after Super Eagles Technical Adviser, Gernot Rohr admitted that he was shopping for a potent striker to prosecute the World Cup, Obafemi Martins and Aaron Samuel over the weekend provided the perfect responses.
Martins scored a hat-trick in Shanghai Shenhua’s 4-2 defeat of Hebei in the Chinese Super League while Aaron Samuel grabbed a brace as Amkar Prem defeated Locomotive Moscow 2-1 to move out of the relegation zone in Russia.
These players’ goalscoring forms provide something to cheer for Rohr whose strikers fired blank against Poland and Serbia in the recent international break with the team failing to score in open play.
The below par performances of the strikers listed for that exercise have led to permutations as regards possible gatecrashers into the World Cup squad.
During this period, the likes of Brown Ideye, Fanendo Adi, Sadiq Umar and recent invitees, Junior Ajayi and Gabriel Okechukwu had been mentioned.
Umar also hit target in NAC Breda’s 1-5 loss to PSV Eindhoven. He now has five goals and one assist in eight games for NAC where he is on loan from Roma.
Elsewhere, Taiwo Awoniyi scored for Mouscron in the 3-0 away defeat of Lierse in the Belgian Jupiler. Awoniyi was returning from suspension having been sent off in the 1-2 loss to Lokeren. He is on loan from Liverpool where he recently extended his contract.
Then on Sunday, Kayode Olanrewaju scored on his debut for Shaktar Donetsk as they beat Zorya 3-1 in the Ukrainian league. Olanrewaju scored three minutes after coming on in the 90th minute.
Olanrewaju has had his fair share of invitations under Rohr but hasn’t impressed yet. Would he get another opportunity to stake a claim for a World Cup place? A debut goal may not be enough. From his perspective, loads of goals are needed to turn Rohr’s head once again.
On the flip side, on a weekend out-of-favour strikers banged in the goals, Rohr’s favourites had unsavoury moments on their return from international duties.
While Odion Ighalo missed from the spot as his club, Changchun Yatai lost 1-2 at home to Guangzhou R&F in the Chinese Super League, Kelechi Iheanacho sat out Leicester’s 2-0 defeat of Brighton on the bench.
Incidentally, Martins and Samuel had not been involved with the national team since Rohr assumed office.
While Aaron Samuel was a mainstay during Stephen Keshi’s reign, Martins has been out of favour in the national team in recent times.
Both have different styles. Samuel’s physical presence and hold-up play contrast Martins’ diminutive, direct and pacy disposition.
So while Samuel fits the bill of the big, bullish striker that should hold the ball up and pave the way for the team’s offensive players to strike, Martins’ mazy runs, quick feet and precision in front of goal is also appetizing.
Ironically, Rohr is in dire need of a beanpole in the box, what Samuel presents. But the team is also crying out for some sprinkle of experience heading to football’s showpiece event, a hole Martins effectively plugs.
There lies the dilemma. And realistically, there doesn’t seem to be more than one striker’s slot to be filled in the World Cup squad.
If Rohr needs some guarantee, Martins holds the ace with his past exploits with the national team, but Samuel presents some food for thought.
Meanwhile, this is just based on the strikers’ performances over the weekend. These two just choose an auspicious time to do the needful.
Rohr no doubt will cast his net wider. And the likes of Ideye could just fall in.
Ideye should feature prominently in Rohr’s calculations. For the role of attacking foil, which Samuel had been touted to fill, Ideye could suffice.
Like Martins, Ideye comes with a solid reputation in the national team. He played that role to perfection as Eagles won AFCON 2013 and was key to the team’s 2-1 defeat of Zambia in Rohr’s second game in charge.
So while Samuel and Martins have the disadvantage of never playing under Rohr, the German tactician isn’t strange to Ideye. He is part of the Rohr era and played some part during the qualifiers. That should count for something.
But Ideye isn’t the man Rohr should count on for goals. He just knows how to crown goal kings. Emmanuel Emenike should testify to this. Ideye is selfless and there is hardly a better player in the land in the art of holding the ball up.
First thing, though, Ideye needs to return to Malaga’s starting eleven to boost his World Cup chances. He wasn’t listed for the weekend’s clash against Villarreal. But another striker, a forgotten one, Isaac Success made the starting list for Malaga in a rare victory over Villarreal.
Yes, Success really lost his way at some point. Somewhere in Watford. Will he navigate his way back to that path of ascendance he was once headed?
Did I make ‘success’ of this digression? Now, back to the Ideye/Martins comparison. Frankly, these are the kind of additions made to a World Cup-bound team. So what does Rohr want? A goal scorer or one to help his legion of offensive players hit the net more regularly?
Just where does Adi fit in in all of these? There seems to be strong clamour for him from a section of the media recently. But realistically, he should have an outsider’s chance.
He is a higher immediate risk than the three already mentioned. He hasn’t had standout moments in the national team both before and during Rohr’s reign.
Despite having a huge reputation in the MLS, with his two goals, two assists for Portland Timbers this term and 57 goals in the last four seasons, he might be overwhelmed by the demands of international football at the biggest stage. But already he couldn’t come off the bench the last time he was invited for the all-important AFCON qualifier against Egypt in Kaduna in 2016.
Can he convince Rohr on his debut, that he is good enough for the World Cup? He doesn’t seem like a risk Rohr would deem fit to take. If he invites him, it, most likely, will be with an eye on the future since Rohr still has a contract till the next two years.
The likes of Ajayi, Okechukwu, Awoniyi and Umar could be categorised alongside Victor Osimhen, who is having torrid times at Wolfsburg, in Rohr’s estimation. Adi could fall right in here too. Guys that should form the post World Cup era.
For this latter group, this World Cup may have come too soon. But, why not? The AFCON qualifiers continue soon after the World Cup…Then AFCON proper…And beyond…