Goal Nigeria considers those players yet to be recognised by the national side and propose an uncapped XI of would-be Super Eagle stars. This Article is Part 2: Midfield & Attack
By Ed Dove
This article follows on from my recent piece presenting a Nigerian Uncapped XI of players who could force their way into Stephen Keshi’s plans ahead of the World Cup next summer. Each of these men could certainly contribute something to the current set-up and should they find top form over the coming months, could be worthy of a closer assessment.
While the previous piece presented the case for the goalkeeper and defence, this editorial looks at the midfield and the forward line.
Hoping for Akpan
Mf: Hope Akpan (Reading)
It has been a rollercoaster few years for Reading midfielder Hope Akpan.
The youngster was released by Premier League Everton and dropped down three divisions to play for League Two Crawley Town. A promotion with Crawley allowed Akpan to test his mettle in League One, before Reading snapped him up for a return to the Premier League in January.
Following the Royals’ relegation at the end of last term, Akpan now finds himself in the Championship. In just over a year the young Nigerian has tested himself in all three English divisions.
An ankle injury suffered in April has derailed his progress and even an injury to fellow midfielder Jem Karacan hasn’t helped Akpan regain the first team berth he enjoyed before his injury.
If the dynamic midfielder can rediscover the explosive form with which he began his Reading career, then surely it won’t be long before he is commanding a spot in the first XI. Could a maiden call-up for Nigeria soon follow?
Mf: Sylvester Igboun (Midtjylland)
It’s no surprise that clubs of the stature of Turkish giants Besiktas have shown interest in Nigeria’s Sylvester Igboun. Since making his debut for Midtjylland back in 2010, Igboun has contested a Danish Cup final and has tasted European competition.
His versatility would surely be appealing to Keshi. Igboun has played the majority of this season on the left flank, from where he was been fairly prolific, but he has also operated on the right and in the centre. As a younger man, he took up a forward berth and, as a creative frontman, showed the guile and the nous to provide chances for his teammates.
The forward’s disciplinary record might count against him (he has been booked six times since mid-July), but if Keshi is looking for a nippy attacker who could blend well with his current options, he could do a lot worse than turning to Igboun.
Mf: Michael Olaitan (Olympiakos)
The 20-year-old starlet is nominally a forward, but has been operating in midfield for Olympiakos in recent months. Olaitan has excelled for the Greek giants in recent weeks, where he has shown himself to be capable of filling-in in the centre of the park or on the right flank.
Having started his career at Jos-based Mighty Jets, Olaitan then moved to Greece, where he played for minnows Veria, before heading to Piraeus.
Olaitan represented Nigeria at the U-20 World Cup during the summer and now that he has begun to get some game time in the Champions Leagues, he may become an intriguing prospect for Keshi.
Adi: Phenomenal Scoring Record
FW: Fanendo Adi (Kobenhaven)
Frontman Fanendo Adi once managed such an impressive scoring record in the Slovakian league that Dutch giants Ajax declared their interest. Instead, the Lagos-born forward has arrived at Copenhagen, where he is currently enjoying Champions League football.
Keshi has sought players who might give the Super Eagles a more physical approach heading into the World Cup. A Plan B if you will. Victor Anichebe is yet to return to the fold and Shola Ameobi, now in his early 30s, will surely only be a short-term option.
Perhaps Adi, who stands at 6’4, can be the alternate option to the more explosive, nimbler forwards on the roster. His record of 10 goals in 19 games for Trencin last term will surely have caught Keshi’s eye. If he can repeat that with Copenhagen, he will be an irresistible option.
Ezekiel: When, not if
FW: Imoh Ezekiel (Standard)
The issue appears to be not ‘if’ Imoh Ezekiel will break into the Nigeria set-up, but ‘when’.
The 20-year-old Standard Liege forward burst onto the scene last year and hasn’t stopped scoring since, 16 goals in 31 games, and for a man who has only just ceased being a teenager, is pretty startling work.
Naturally, as a young player, Ezekiel will suffer a dip in form somewhere along the road. He has only scored twice in the last eleven games, and will need to come out of this relative lull with all guns blazing. Should he be paying attention, however, Keshi would certainly realise that Ezekiel is beginning to grow into the professional game and is contributing more to the all-round team effort.
Could he tempt Keshi to carry him to Brazil as a potential wildcard?
FW: Stephen Worgu (Al-Merrikh)
He may be the forgotten man of Nigerian football, but Stephen Worgu still retains the talent that made him such a fascinating character several years ago.
Things haven’t quite worked out for Worgu since those early days in Nigeria and then the early stages of his move to Sudan. It’s easy to forget that in 2010 he was one of the outstanding domestic-based players in African football, in 2008 he top scored as Enyimba reached the CAF Champions League semi-final.
Worgu may have dropped off the radar since then, in a big way, but the talent hasn’t simply evaporated.
If the attacking midfielder-cum-centre-forward can find a club that suits him and can flourish over the coming months, could he make a late surge into the Super Eagles squad ahead of next summer? If he can, then Keshi could have a real ace up his sleeve.