Goal Nigeria profile five stars who could make a late run to displace the Big Boss' victorious Afcon squad and feature in the summer's Confederations Cup in Brazil
With the Afcon still fresh in the memory, attention turns to the summer, when Stephen Keshi’s conquering heroes will test their mettle against some of the world’s finest national sides at the Confederations Cup. In winning the tournament in South Africa, Nigeria join an elite field including the likes of Brazil, Spain, Italy, Mexico, and…er…Tahiti.
Although the Big Boss will surely be hesitant to break apart a winning team, particularly with morale so high among his victorious 23, Goal Nigeria wishes to pass an eye over five young Nigerians who may well be on the cusp of Keshi’s plans.
Over the coming weeks and months, our team will keep an eye on the progress of these five Super Eagle-wannabes, and should injury or poor form befall any of the triumphant Afcon squad, we will assess whether these young stars are primed and poised to step into the breach.
Few Nigerians elicit more excitement among fans than Sidney Sam. He may not be as young as some of the other stars on this list, but the potential he offers the Super Eagles selectors is immense. Born in Kiel, Germany, the Leverkusen star has represented his nation of birth at youth level, playing six times for the U-21 side.
Able to play both on the wing and up front, his reputation was forged through stints with HSV Hamburg and Kaiserslautern, before the Lowen became a permanent home in 2010.
While his contemporaries Jerome Boateng and Mesut Ozil have gone on to represent Die Mannschaft at senior level, Sam has found his options limited by Germany’s terrific stock of talented midfielders.
However, as one door closes, another opens, and Stephen Keshi has already iterated his desire to integrate Sam into the Super Eagle fold. The prodigal performances of some of his Afcon midfielders may dissuade Keshi from turning to Germany, but I doubt it will be too long before the talented star makes a debut for the land of his father.
While Nigerians Shola Ameobi, Obafemi Martins, John Obi Mikel, and Ogenyi Onazi all enjoyed successful evenings in the Europa League last week, seeing their teams through to the last 16, the same cannot be said for Dynamo Kyiv duo Taye Taiwo and Lukman Haruna. The elimination caps off an unhappy spell for the pair, both of whom missed out on Naija’s Afcon squad.
I have written extensively about the impact Taiwo could have on the left of Nigeria’s defence, but perhaps Haruna is an even more enigmatic prospect for the Super Eagles.
Despite threatening with his crossing in the second leg defeat against Bordeaux, it was in the first match that he truly demonstrated the range of his abilities, linking well with his compatriot before firing the homeside ahead.
A former captain of the national U-17 and U-20 sides, it may seem like the former AS Monaco man has been around for ages, but in fact he is still only 22, and with plenty of time ahead of him to return to the national team fold. Overlooked by Keshi thus far, he will need to work hard to find a place for himself in a Naija midfield crammed with talent.
Recently the subject of some high praise from teammate Leighton Baines, Everton’s ‘Scouse-Nigerian’ ‘Big Vic’ Anichebe has impressed widely with his effective and focused performances for the Blues this season. With Nikica Jelavic failing to hit the heights as he did last season, with six goals in 22 starts, Anichebe has stepped up to the plate, and has contributed five, often crucial, goals in only nine starts.
It remains to be seen whether Everton will finally claim a much-coveted Champions League spot, but either way, England has begun to take notice of the 6 foot 3 Anichebe, a striker who has rarely looked prolific at the highest level.
Still only 24, and already with 11 international appearances under his belt, the forward has the capacity to enjoy a long career to come with the Super Eagles. He surely needs to further increase his games-to-goals ratio, but the suspicion is that the imposing Anichebe could be able to trouble defences in the famous green of Naija.
After being let-go by Everton, and dropping down the divisions to unfashionable Crawley Town, it could have been fair to suggest that Akpan’s Super Eagle aspirations had faded. However, the young man has concentrated on developing his game, and has worked his way back up to the Premier League, after Reading decided to recruit him for their relegation battle.
Since signing for the Royals, Akpan has looked like a man keen to make up for lost time in England’s top division, demonstrating his excellent ability with some fine performances.
Born in Liverpool, Akpan has been open in expressing his desire to one day represent the nation of his parents at international level.
Still only 21, the youngster has time on his side in a bid to commend himself to Stephen Keshi, the Confederations Cup may come too soon—but if his impressive showings for Reading continue, will the Big Boss be able to ignore him for much longer?
While all of the players in this list may have enormous potential, it’s hard to spot one who could go as far in the game as Joel Obi.
I imagine that while the excitement and the euphoria of Nigeria’s first Afcon triumph since 1994 was felt everywhere from Daura to the Delta, the Internazionale youngster may have been one of a handful of players who rued missing out on the chance to make history and etch their names among the annals of Super Eagle greats.
A year or so ago, Obi would have been guaranteed to make the Afcon squad, however, a year of injury and poor form has cast him down the pecking order. Few could argue that the Lagos-born star isn’t capable of rising to the top of the game, but despite his speed, versatility, and technique, he has thus far lacked the consistency to capitalise on his immense potential.
This could be a crucial six months in the youngster’s career.
Agree or Disagree? Comment down below and let us know which Nigerians you can see breaking into the Confederations Cup squad, and why any of these five might not be part of Keshi's vision.