As the count down to the 2019 U20 Fifa World Cup which is billed to kick off on Thursday, May 23 in Poland, TheCable continues with the profiling of the “backbone” of the Nigerian team — the defence.
The defence has been seen as a strong point in the in Paul Aigbogun’s 4-3-3 formation of the Flying Eagles, which allows the use of two centre backs flanked by two full backs, the young team looked solid in the training camp, but how solid will they look in battle.
But who are the six defenders chosen in the squad?
Ikouwem Utin (Enyimba FC)
He has been Flying Eagles first choice left back ever since Aigbogun took over from Emmanuel Amuneke; Utin is key to the formation his coach wants to play.
It will be his job to bomb up and down the right-hand side to support the forwards up front, whilst also making sure the defence is compact to deal with attacks.
Interestingly, Utin supplied more crosses during the qualifiers than any other member of the team.
He should be one of the Flying Eagles key players during the tournament.
Strength – Has a great engine, and will go up and down the left all game. Also a good crosser of the ball
Weakness – May get caught up the field at times if Nigeria is swiftly countered.
Aliu Salawudeen (Amuneke Academy)
Aliu Salawudeen will offer the brick wall the back four needs, with the way he tackles and initiates attacks.
Strength – He does his job solidly when playing well.
Weakness – Salaudeen isn’t as fast as expected of a player of his calibre, and could get caught out against quick player.
Muhammad Rabiu (Plateau United)
Muhammad Rabiu will go into the World Cup brimming with confidence.
Can be used effectively as a midfielder, but Aigbogun sees him as a defender, and this is where he is expected to play during the World Cup.
As shown in the friendlies, Rabiu is a great tackler, but also effective going forward.
A lot of eyes will be on him at the World Cup, as he looks set to leave Plateau United this Summer.
Strength – Tackling
Weakness – Pace
Igoh Ogbu (Rosenborg BK, Norway)
Igoh Igbu has had a brilliant season at Rosenborg BK youth team, and offers versatility to Aigbogun, as he can play along the back four of defence, and in the future could possibly play as a defensive midfielder.
His strength on the ball also makes it difficult for opponents to dispossess him.
Strength – Strong on the ball and in the tackle
Weakness – Rash tackles, which can often prove costly at major finals.
Valentine Ozornwafor (Enyimba FC)
Valentine Ozornwafor is capable of playing at midfield, but it’s in the centre of the defence that the Enyimba youngster is at his best.
Big, strong, and fearless, Ozornwafor is an excellent reader of the game, and has hardly put a foot wrong in any of his 15 caps for Nigeria.
A host of big clubs are lining up to sign him after the World Cup.
Strength – Positioning, and agility
Weakness – Needs to look for a pass more often rather than punt the ball down the field.
Jamil Muhammad (Kano Pillars)
The defender is crucial in Aigbogun’s team.
In recent matches, Jamil has impressed with not only his tackling, but his aerial prowess in the box to keep out any dangerous crosses. This heading ability will also be useful in the opponents’ box.
Strength – Tackling
Weakness – Like Aliu Salawudeen, needs to be more secure in possession.
Photo credit: NFF