What is Nigeria looking to see from Super Eagles in friendly vs. Ukraine?
Nigeria return to the field on Tuesday for their first game since winning the bronze medal at the Africa Cup of Nations in July, with Ukraine as the opposition.
Coach Gernot Rohr's squad will have a slightly different look about it when they meet up in Dnipro. Two of this leading players at the tournament -- captain John Obi Mikel and forward Odion Ighalo -- retired. Midfielder John Ogu, who has mostly been a backstop, is currently without a club and unlikely to return considering his age. Defender Shehu Abdullahi's injury history has left Rohr unable to depend on him to stay healthy for a sustained period. And previous first-choice goalkeeper Daniel Akpeyi's days as an international are also all but over.
None of these players were in the original squad called up by Rohr for this game. And then, of those who remained from Egypt, four more begged off: Captain Ahmed Musa, defender Kenneth Omeruo, midfielder Wilfred Ndidi and forward Henry Onyekuru. They were joined by returnee defender Tyronne Ebuehi, who has not played since the World Cup in 2018.
This leaves Rohr with only 14 players from the Afcon 2019 squad, and a variety of decisions to make against a strong opponent. So what will the Nigeria coach be looking to get out of this friendly
Super Eagles: Coping Without Stalwarts
Musa, Ighalo, Ndidi, Omeruo and Akpeyi. That is five of Rohr's regular starters from Egypt who will be unavailable for this game. Adding Abdullahi, who is the regular first-choice right back -- when fit -- brings the number to six. This means the coach will have to find a way to cope without half his regular starting XI.
At first look, this might seem something of a trying situation. But over the past couple of years, Rohr appears to have built a team in which the whole is seemingly greater than the sum of its parts. In Egypt, the German sporadically switched up his side with personnel changes, and the only significant drop in performance was against Madagascar.
On that day, Rohr made five changes to his starting team and then watched them steamrolled by less-fancied opposition. His changes this time will be forced, and the coach will be looking at his players' response to being given their time in the sun.
Nowhere will that show more than in midfield and upfront, where two gaping holes need to be filled: Ighalo's goals and Ndidi's tenacity.
In the end, though, it will be about the team, and Rohr, himself, will be under some examination as to whom he selects and how he deploys his troops.
Assessing How The Newbies Show Up
Rohr's antecedents show that he is not one to hand immediate debuts to new call-ups if he can help it.
Thus, it is unlikely that new goalkeeper Maduka Okoye will start, irrespective of how much many Nigerians are longing to see alternative options in goal.
Neither is it likely that Joshua Maja or Dennis Bonaventure will get a start. However, with Ndidi out and regular midfield options short, Joe Aribo might present the exception. His energy and aggression, coupled with well over a month of playing time for Rangers, could see him get the nod, as Rohr searches for a backup plan -- and even competition -- for both Ndidi and Peter Etebo.
The others might see 15 to 25-minute cameos, including Okoye, who could possibly be a second-half introduction for Rohr to assess, as the German told ESPN "it will be an interesting test against a strong team, some new players to see."
Depending on performances, there could also be some rotation in midfield and definitely upfront.
Players With Points To Make And Battles To Win
Having been left out of the Afcon squad and sent to Coventry at Leicester, Kelechi Iheanacho could be in to make a statement if he gets on the field.
He showed his mettle with three goals in preseason, but has not been given the opportunity to consolidate since the Premier League campaign kicked off. The Super Eagles might just be his opportunity to give Brendan Rodgers a reminding poke. Or put himself in the shop window ahead of the January transfer window.
In defence, Chidozie Awaziem has recently moved to Leganes to find playing time, and made his debut just last week. A centreback, Awaziem spent most of the Afcon filling in competently at right-back for the injured Abdullahi. Omeruo's absence allows him the opportunity to challenge Leon Balogun for the second spot beside William Troost-Ekong in central defence.
But the biggest battle of all will be upfront.
Osimhen looks like the natural successor to Ighalo, and his four goals for Lille OSC in Ligue 1 this season have strengthened that claim. But Rohr preferred Paul Onuachu in Egypt as a like-for-like substitute for Ighalo. Onuachu underwhelmed in Egypt, but he has exactly the tools and presence that Rohr seems to prefer in his lead striker. There is one spot to be won there which means an almighty battle to be fought to get the shirt.
Newbies will not be the only ones fighting for a spot.
Out wide, Samuel Kalu, Moses Simon and Samuel Chukwueze are in a three-way battle for two wide forward spots. That may not be settled in one game, but it should be fascinating to see how Rohr resolves that conundrum in Ukraine
Super Eagles vs. Ukraine: Full Squad
Goalkeepers: Francis Uzoho (Omonia FC, Cyprus); Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Heartland FC); Emil Maduka Okoye (Fortuna Dusseldorf, Germany) Defenders: Olaoluwa Aina (Torino FC, Italy); Chidozie Awaziem (CD Leganes, Spain); William Troost-Ekong (Udinese FC, Italy); Leon Balogun (Brighton & Hove Albion, England); Jamilu Collins (SC Padeborn 07, Germany); Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England); Bryan Idowu (Lokomotiv Moscow, Russia) Midfielders: Alex Iwobi (Everton FC, England); Anderson Esiti (PAOK Salonica, Greece); Oghenekaro Etebo (Stoke City FC, England); Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England); Joseph Aribo (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland) Forwards: Victor Osimhen (Lille OSC, France); Moses Simon (FC Nantes, France); Joshua Maja (Girondins Bordeaux, France); Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal FC, Spain); Samuel Kalu (Girondins Bordeaux, France); Paul Onuachu (KRC Genk, Belgium); Emmanuel Dennis (Club Brugge, Belgium)
Super Eagles vs. Ukraine: Predicted Line-up
Uzoho; Aina, Awaziem, Troost-Ekong, Collins; Etebo, Iwobi, Aribo; Simon, Osimhen, Chukwueze.