By Ed Dove
It would be presumptuous of me to assume that Nigeria have already qualified for next summer’s World Cup. However, having defeated Ethiopia 2-1 in Addis, most Super Eagles fans will be quietly confident of booking their place at Brazil 2014 next summer.
Bearing that in mind, and with the tournament only half a year away, Stephen Keshi will need to turn his mind to selecting his squad for the global centrepiece occasion. The coach has always placed a high value on the team ethic and thus, I suspect he will be hesitant to disrupt the togetherness that exists among the young Super Eagles stars that won Africa’s top prize earlier this year.
Nonetheless, there are numerous Nigerians who could well offer something to the selection next summer. While later features will examine the merits of those players who have already been capped, this piece advocates those stars yet to be recognised by their nation.
The prospect of this editorial has drawn up much excitement among our readers over the last few weeks, and I ought to thank Enoho Emeje (@EnohoEmeje) for his enthusiastic contributions.
Read on to discover Goal Nigeria’s uncapped XI part one—the goalkeeper and the defence.
Ikeme: Dreaming of Better Days
Goalkeeper: Carl Ikeme (Wolves)
Once upon a time Carl Ikeme was called up to the Nigeria team by Berti Vogts. In the intervening years the stopper has had to settle for far more modest ambitions.
Last season Ikeme had a disastrous time of things. His beloved Wolverhampton Wanderers were relegated to the third tier and the keeper endured a horrible year. The nadir came against Bristol City when, after conceding a soft goal, the Nigerian punched the dressing room wall in frustration.
In doing so, the stopper broke his hand…and ended his season.
This campaign has, so far, been much more productive. Wolves currently sit in second place and have the meanest defence in the division—they have conceded only eight times in their 13 games to date.
Previous No. 1 Wayne Hennessey has been sent out on loan to Yeovil and, in his absence, Ikeme is enjoying a rare run in the team. Could he provide valuable competition to Vincent Enyeama and Austin Ejide next summer?
Nedum: Calm down, temper temper!
Right-back: Nedum Onuoha (QPR)
I have long championed Nedum Onuoha as a potentially superb addition to Nigeria’s backline. The defender’s potential contribution to the national side is certainly a point of contention among Super Eagles fans. When the Goal Nigeria team invited you to send in essays at the end of 2012, advocating one player to join up with Keshi’s men, many of you called for Nedum’s inclusion, whereas numerous others suggested he had no part to play with the international side.
Currently, Onuoha is a crucial part of QPR’s defence—the excellent unit have conceded only six times in 13 games and during the eight games that the Nigerian has played, he has helped keep six clean sheets.
Two man of the match performances demonstrate Onuoha’s growing maturity and influence within the team as they seek to restore their Premier League status.
Whilst introducing Onuoha could potentially disrupt Nigeria’s excellent backline, I believe that in the absence of Kenneth Omeruo, he could be an excellent partner for Godfrey Oboabona. He is certainly a better player that the limited Azubuike Egwuekwe even if he does not share the Warri Wolves man’s understanding with Oboabona.
Similarly, with Joseph Yobo’s Nigeria days looking firmly behind him, Onuoha could bring much-needed experience to the young backline. Now 26, the former City man would surely be receptive to any potential advances from Keshi.
Derik (right) with Jonas Ramalho and Jese
Centre-back: Derik (Real Madrid Castilla)
Having proved himself as a leader with Real Madrid C during the 2011/12 season, Derik Osede Prieto has now stepped up to the Castilla. Los Blancos’ first team still feels a long way away, but the presence of Raphael Varane proves that if you are good enough, you will make the grade in the capital.
Derik describes himself, on the Real Madrid web site, as a “quick, decisive player who initiates play well”, he may be raw, but he already possesses the raw materials to go a long way in the sport. His physical and technical attributes suggest he could be something special.
Currently a member of Spain’s U-20 team (he represented La Rojita at the U-20 World Cup this summer) it would seem unlikely that Derik will ever throw his hat into the ring with the Super Eagles. However, the example of Stephen ‘Sunny’ Sunday, who played for Spain’s youth teams before committing himself to the Super Eagles, is proof that it is not unfeasible for Derik to ever turn out for Stephen Keshi’s men.
Ilori: Arriving at Anfield
Centre-back: Tiago Ilori (Liverpool)
While it seems unlikely that Ilori will even represent Nigeria, I couldn’t ignore him when compiling this list—he is yet to make an appearance for either England or Portugal and thus remains eligible for the Super Eagles.
The 20-year-old centre-back was born in London to a Portuguese mother and a Nigerian father; having spent his formative years with Sporting Lisbon’s youth team, he was snapped up by Liverpool this summer in a £7 million deal.
The youngster will need to bide his time at Anfield, where the likes of Kolo Toure, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho stand ahead of him in the pecking order. He certainly has the class to blossom at Liverpool, but it remains unlikely that Nigeria will ever benefit from his talents.
Wabara: Versatility Personified
Left-back; Reece Wabara (Doncaster)
Wabara, like Onuoha, is a product of Manchester City’s youth academy. However, unlike Onuoha, Wabara is still on the club’s books.
He is currently undergoing a loan move to Doncaster Rovers, where his versatility is emerging as a great asset to the newly-promoted Championship side.
Wabara has some experience of the second tier, having enjoyed a spell on loan at Ipswich back in 2011. He developed his game at Oldham, in League One, last term, before stepping back to the Championship with Doncaster.
Despite a promising start, the Yorkshire-based side have struggled lately, particularly in defence. The 21-year-old Wabara is still learning his trade, however, and will benefit from the formative experiences of this term. His ability to play in any defensive position may yet sway Stephen Keshi.