Nigeria 0-1 Cameroon: Nothing ventured, nothing gained, nothing learnt

Gernot Rohr’s refusal to lean into the spirit of the tie and provide something new lent a tired, banal feel to Friday’s loss to the Indomitable Lions

The single biggest problem with never trying something new is that it leaves precious little to talk about in the aftermath. Nothing different can be observed and, as such, little insight is gleaned.

Not that change for its own sake is all that it’s cracked up to be, of course. Nigerians know this more than most. And, in fairness to Gernot Rohr, friendlies are tough to plan for, especially in this case when they are simply placeholders for something more substantial. The obvious question is what function they should fulfil for the coach: to crystallize pre-existing ideas, to build on them, or to synthesize something new.

That’s a tough nut to crack at the best of times. However, what made Friday’s meeting with Cameroon in Austria so forgettable is that, arguably, Rohr managed none of the three.

Lacking at least six members of what might be considered his preferred team, there simply was not enough scope to seek to build upon his playing idea. With so little time to get the team up to speed, and with a manifest camp shortfall, there was not the facility to emphasize the core tenets. What there was though, was the opportunity to afford the newer players a proper, extended window to shine and convince.

Instead, what was presented was a team with the same personnel confirming long-held impressions. Shehu Abdullahi is steady (nothing special) when tasked to fill in at right-back, but we already knew that. Jamilu Collins suffices if you have an adventurous full-back on the other flank, but there was already plenty of evidence to back this up before this international window. The midfield pivot of Oghenekaro Etebo and Wilfred Ndidi (and he was one of the better performers on the night) cannot get the ball into the final third reliably, but what else is new?

Paul Onuachu has yet to shine starting a match for the Super Eagles, and continues to mostly stick out like a sore thumb within this team’s playing idea—anyone could have told you that from Jump Street. He simply lacks the tireless running and elasticity of Victor Osimhen, and his more static stylings made it difficult for strike partner Kelechi Iheanacho to make hay on the day; the Leicester man needs movement ahead of or beside him, either to hit or to profit from by dropping into the spaces that open up as a result.

Arguably the only player who significantly altered the perception of himself was Chidozie Awaziem, who was granted a role in the heart of the defence and performed admirably, displaying little of the rashness that had previously undermined him in that position. On the other end of the spectrum, Alex Iwobi’s stock took a beating, even allowing for the mitigating factors of being shunted out to the right of Rohr’s 4-4-2 (which rendered him largely peripheral) and being rusty (thanks to his inactivity at Everton).

Meanwhile, the likes of Terem Moffi, Peter Olayinka and Marcus Abraham, all of whom could have been spotlighted within reason, were left on the bench, reduced to second-half cameos of varying but similarly unsatisfactory lengths.

Moffi at the very least showed some promise, as well as an impressive upper body strength that Michael Ngadeu will attest to. The Lorient man has been the subject of much expectation thanks to his breakout year in French football, and did his chances of starting the rematch no harm at all by at least looking sharp. Abraham, a left-footed right-winger who has drawn comparisons with Samuel Chukwueze, came on much later and therefore got lost in the shuffle of late substitutions that similarly buried Slavia Prague’s Olayinka.

All three could have benefitted from at least a half to show what they were about, if for no other reason than that everyone who did is already a known quantity.

Perhaps this will matter less come Tuesday, when the tired sequel to Friday’s half-hearted shrug of a match comes on. There will certainly be something new to look at, not least because Rohr has confirmed that both William Troost-Ekong and Jamilu Collins would be absent from proceedings having picked up knocks.

That may necessitate a change of shape, if nothing else. However, if recent evidence indicates anything, it is that beyond that, little of interest can be expected.

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