With the Venezuela friendly fresh in the memory, and the Afcon less than 6 weeks away, we make some early predictions on the make up of the Nigerian squad.
By Ed Dove
Dead Certain - Vincent Enyeama & Austin Ejide – The pressing question here appears not to be who will make the trip, but rather, who will start as Nigeria’s Number 1. Whilst Enyeama has been Naija’s go-to gardien in recent years, Ejide’s assured performance as captain against Venezuela has led to calls for him to be installed as first choice – particularly after Enyeama’s recent error-strewn performances. Sometimes the spotlight needs to be forced onto a player for us to all truly see their value, perhaps now is the time for Ejide to force the debate.
Probable - Chigozie Agbim – A regular squad player, Agbim looks likely to travel as the squad’s third keeper ahead of some less established alternatives.
Dead Certain - Joseph Yobo, Efe Ambrose – Nigeria’s captain has proved himself to be a crucial component of the backline, and without his composure and leadership the defence has looked lost. Ambrose’s recent established displays for Celtic in the Champions League have seen him identified as one of Europe’s brightest young defenders – his tenacity could be vital, whilst his versatility will be a major asset to the squad – one that Keshi cannot ignore.
Probables - Elderson, Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Onyekachi Apam – Elderson and Apam look likely to travel, and could be decent options in the full back positions. The latter pulled out of the Venezuela friendly through injury, after a rare inclusion in a Keshi squad – perhaps a sign that his undoubted quality is considered a possible solution to defensive failings. The domestic-based youngsters Oboabona and Egwuekwe have gently embedded themselves into the side, but neither offer total assurance. The former occasionally lacks concentration, whilst the latter sometimes finds himself outpaced. These weaknesses may be exposed in the fervour of the Afcon.
Possibles - Solomon Kwambe, Papa Idris, Taye Taiwo, Juwon Oshaniwa, Francis Benjamin – Kwambe gave a fine account of himself against Venezuela, and his marauding qualities and raw pace down the right flank could be tempting options. Idris, Oshaniwa, and Benjamin have been semi-regular additions to recent squads, and even though only Oshaniwa has had a genuine chance to prove himself, all three could be outside bets to fill the reserve defensive berths. Despite not featuring under Keshi, Taye Taiwo could be a late runner for the squad; a regular Champions League performer with Dynamo Kyiv – it may be hard for him to be ignored for much longer.
Unlikely - Kenny Omeruo, Danny Shittu, Yusuf Mohammed, Nedum Onuoha, Dele Adeleye – Five overlooked players, all of whom could add some genuine quality to the Nigerian defence. The Afcon may come too soon for them to stake a claim, but particularly in the case of Omeruo, the future looks promising.
Dead Certain - John Obi Mikel, Nosa Igiebor– Arguably the nation’s finest player, Mikel will head to the Afcon as the Super Eagles’ talisman. Whilst his contributions have been questioned in the past, few were complaining after his assured midfield display against Liberia ensured Nigeria’s passage to South Africa. Against Venezuela, without him, the midfield struggled to control the game, further demonstrating his worth to the squad. He will be supported by Igiebor, a creative player that has excelled in recent fixtures. He has proved himself to be among the team’s most important players, working hard, tracking back, running all day, but also offering pinpoint deliveries for the strikers.
Probables - Raheem Lawal, Nwankwo Obiorah, Ejike Uzoenyi – Never underestimate the importance of a hard working engine. Whilst Raheem Lawal has offered more than this in his few displays for the Super Eagles to date, this kind of player is a manager’s dream. Uzoenyi has long been Keshi’s darling, and despite his performances tailing off somewhat in recent times, the flying winger still possesses the pace and trickery to merit inclusion. Obiorah is another who has been welcomed into the fold under Keshi, and I would be surprised were the Italian-based youngster to miss out.
Possibles - Ogenyi Onazi, Henry Uche, Joel Obi – Onazi was arguably the major positive in the recent contest against Venezuela. Whilst his wondergoal stole the headlines, the midfielder also demonstrated an ability to get a handle on a midfield – he may well have thrust himself into the running. Henry Uche has been a regular squad member under Keshi, and will be hoping to make the plane. Whilst some suggest that Joel Obi’s progress has stalled, the youngster still has that creative drive that could prove invaluable for the Super Eagles, inclusion in the squad for the Liberia victory suggests that Keshi still harbours hope for the Internazionale midfielder.
Unlikely - Dickson Etuhu, Sani Kaita, Fengor Ogude, Reuben Gabriel, Lukman Haruna, Rabiu Ibrahim – Despite being competent players, Ogude and Gabriel have failed to assert themselves among a crop of gifted midfielders, and this augers badly for their January plans. Having not featured since Keshi’s arrival in February, Etuhu and Kaita have been all but forgotten within the national set-up. Nevertheless, these two may still bring something to the table, and experience is one quality lacking among Nigeria’s talented collection of midfielders.
Dead Certain - Victor Moses, Ikechukwu Uche, Ahmed Musa – Three men who need no introduction, all of whom combine to make Nigeria’s forward line one of the most potent in African football. Moses in particular will be relishing the chance to participate in his first international tournament, less than a year after making his debut for the Super Eagles. Musa offers pacey, penetrative attacking play down the flanks and could make a serious impact at the Afcon.
Probables - Peter Odemwingie, Obafemi Martins, Emmanuel Emenike– Three strikers who both look like fairly safe bets to make the plane. Martins identified the Venezuela game as a ‘chance to prove his worth’, but realistically, his intelligent running and persistent goal threat are hard to ignore. Odemwingie is currently in a rich vein of form, and recent interactions with Keshi suggest that the Albion striker is firmly in the Super Eagles’ plans.
Possibles - Shola Ameobi, Ideye Brown, Sone Aluko, John Utaka, Jude Aneke, Uche Kalu– A shortlist that illustrates the depth of quality attacking talent available. Despite the talented players ahead of him, Ameobi offers a different kind of threat, and could be an invaluable platform from which to build attacks, or as a late impact substitute. Ideye Brown continues to improve at club level, and, like Ameobi, is capable of making an instant impact. Aluko offers pace, and is enjoying a fruitful season in the English Championship with Hull City. Utaka offers experience and guile, whilst the impressive Jude Aneke is a fresher option.
Unlikely - Bright Dike, Izu Azuka, Ekigho Ehiosun – Whilst I, like many others, was impressed with Bright Dike’s 68 minutes against Venezuela, it’s hard to see him muscling his way into the Afcon squad. Nevertheless, bright by name and bright by nature, the player deserves a further look – his energy and endeavour could be useful, and I doubt I’m the only one to see something of the Yekini in his forceful running and courageous chasing down of the ball. The involvement of both he and Ameobi suggests that Keshi is considering a viable Plan B for his forward line. Azuka and Ehiosun have been included sporadically under Keshi, but are likely to be crowded out by the star power ahead of them.