This article takes a look at the Super Eagles' squad ahead of the friendly against Mexico and explores the balance between potential stars and established performers
By Olasoji Tolulope
Excluding crude oil, football talent has become Nigeria’s best export to the world. It is a game that you don’t get to choose, it chooses you, and it’s not meant for any special or specific group of people. Come June 2014, the world will be on its feet as the most prominent quadrennial football showpiece takes centre-stage in Brazil
Prior to this date, there are decisions to be taken that will heavily affect how the Super Eagles will fare at the tournament. One important decision that will determine the prosperity of the summer is Stephen Keshi’s choice of player.
With the manager enjoying the autonomy of choosing his charges, his recent squad for the upcoming friendly against Mexico might be the prototype for the Brazil-bound 23.
Given the qualities in that squad I strongly believe that Steven Keshi is one of the few coaches who believes in potential more than genuine credentials.
The recent squad welcomes former U-20 captain Ramon Azeez who plies his trade in Spain with modest La Liga side Almeria, Belgium-based strikers Imoh Ezekiel and Michael Uchebo, alongside CHAN revelations Ejike Uzoenyi, Shehu Abdullahi and Kunle Odunlami. In calling up these players, however, Keshi has ignored the claims of Peter Odemwingie, Ike Uche and Obafemi Martins.
Ezekiel | Full of potential to prompt change
The inclusion of new and returning faces into the fold could provide answers in some certain areas the team are lacking. The new players are full of potential to make that happen.
In the goalkeeping section there is nothing to worry about the exclusion of third choice goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim, who had a very disappointing outing at the CHAN tournament and could see his spot at the world cup usurped by 2013 U-17 golden glove winner Dele Alampasu.
In defence the introduction of Leon Balogun could add stability, experience and backup, because, in the absence of Kenneth Omeruo, Azubuike Egwuekwe has been unconvincing. At the AFCON showpiece, the Oboabona/Omeruo partnership looked untouchable as both of them have got the potential to shut out any sort of attack and will likely be flanked by Efe Ambrose and Elderson Echiejile. Balogun should provide support, rather than affecting the starting XI.
In midfield, the manager faces his sternest test. He may be able to find a solution with the inclusion of Almeria’s defensive midfield stalwart Ramon Azeez who could slot well into the coach’s 4-3-3 formation.
There are few concerns about the form of Ogenyi Onazi and John Obi Mikel, but the third spot in the midfield has left some concerns. The issues have been well-covered among the pages of Goal Nigeria, and it will be fascinating to see what Azeez can bring to the equation.
Up front, injury to Bright Dike has paved the way for the likes of Michael Uchebo and/or Imoh Ezekiel to steal a World Cup berth in support of Emmanuel Emenike.
Uche | Exclusion a window into Keshi's principles
The continued overlooking of Ikechukwu Uche does not only show that Keshi is not always seduced by a player’s statistics, but also that he pays due attention to a player’s attitude and potential suitability for the broader playing style of the team. With the team lacking a natural playmaker in the No. 10 role behind the striker, Uche would likely be starved of the ball given the fact that he is a box poacher and offers little outside the box.
Considering the way the team is being set-up, the marksman is required to put in high work rate, dropping out and wide to receive balls and contribute to the team’s play. In contrast, Uche has been accused for changing the game play of the team to suit his own pattern.
On the wings, Victor Moses remains in line to win a starting berth on the left side of attack despite his inability to deliver for Liverpool.
Ejike Uzoenyi, who came into prominence after his virtuoso showing at the recent CHAN tournament, is also in contention for a place on the right side of attack, but faces a fierce competition for place with CSKA Moscow attacker Ahmed Musa.
For the squad to face Mexico, Keshi has largely stuck with the principles that have served him well to date. However, questions remain as to whether the personnel he has chosen will carry enough potency to make an impact at the World Cup. If the Super Eagles struggle against Mexico, then Keshi may face pressure to introduce other, new, established faces into the fold.