The Big Boss faces selection problems ahead of his trip to Brazil after clinching the ticket against Ethiopia
By Demola Dawodu & Akhoyanta Amos
The Super Eagles booked their ticket to the 2014 Fifa World Cup with a 4-1 aggregate win over the Walia Antelopes of Ethiopia in Calabar. Attention will now be switched to preparing and making a big impression on football’s grandest stage in Brazil.
It was an arduous qualification campaign and after all these months of fielding several players, Nigeria head coach Stephen Keshi should have a mental composition of his squad by now.
A raft of players were invited for the lengthy but worthwhile journey to the showpiece event and some have impressed while others are not likely to be on that flight to South America next summer.
The sure bets to be in the squad include the three goalkeepers Vincent Enyeama, Austin Ejide and Chigozie Agbim.
Godfrey Oboabona, Kenneth Omeruo, Efe Ambrose and Uwa Echiejile look set to be the fulcrum of the Eagles defence while Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi, Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike will certainly keep their place in the 23-man squad barring injuries.
Players like Brown Ideye and Ahmed Musa are important cogs in the reigning African champions’ team but the inconsistency in their recent display leaves room for marked improvement or even replacements if/when available.
Also, John Ogu, Azubuike Egwuekwe, Sunday Mba, Nosa Igiebor, Victor Obinna and Nnamdi Oduamadi have shown glimpses of brilliance, but a recall to the team for Joseph Yobo, Kalu Uche, Ikechukwu Uche, Reuben Gabriel, Osaze Odemwingie & Obafemi Martins should provide stiff competition.
The national team is still very much a work in progress as we saw against the Ethiopians. The Eagles found it difficult to kill off the game in the second half with the attacking quartet of Emenike, Ideye, Musa and Moses struggling to get the better of the opposing defence with their final pass always lacking a cutting edge.
Musa with all his pace hasn’t improved on his decision making; his crosses into the box still leave a lot be desired while Ideye who has proven to be a perfect foil for Emenike is far from clinical in front of goal - a trait which can jeopardize the chances of a side looking to become the first African side to reach the semi-final stage.
Keshi still has a lot of ruminating and hard decisions to make regarding player selection. After the thrilling 2-2 draw with Italy at Craven Cottage on Monday, the Big Boss has just two exhibition games before he chooses the gladiators that will battle it out against the world's finest teams in Brazil next summer.
Shola Ameobi showed why the coach has so much faith in him after his impressive performance in the first half-setting up Bright Dike for the equalizer and notching a goal to put Nigeria in the driving seat.
Dike scored on his second start for Nigeria and certainly didn’t fluff his lines in his ongoing audition for a place in the national team. The American-born striker has proven to have both an eye for goal and prowess in building up play.
Keshi's conundrum will be whether to stick with the misfiring Ideye or give the relatively inexperienced Dike a chance.
Ikechukwu Uche has made a blistering start to the Liga season with Villarreal and his form shouldn’t go unnoticed by the Super Eagles gaffer. Cardiff City striker Odemwingie has always performed well in the green & white jersey and his experience will be important for a tournament of this magnitude.
A player that didn’t do his chances any favours was Oduamadi. His all important goal against Kenya and the three he put past minnows Tahiti at the Confederations Cup are still fresh in the memory; but those are the highlights of his Eagles career so far and against Italy he looked out of sorts; misplacing passes much to the advantage of Nigeria's more illustrious opponents.
Egwuekwe put in an average performance in the friendly as he couldn’t cope with the movement and strength of Mario Balotelli but should be on the flight to Brazil.
Players like Solomon Kwambe & Benjamin Francis showed glimpses of their potential in the first half but their lack of experience at this level was exposed after the interval as they were always caught out of position by Andrea Pirlo’s cross-field passes and the runs of Christian Maggio and later, Alessio Cerci. Both could still be peripheral parts of Keshi's squad as cover for Echiejile and Ambrose.
Joseph Yobo could also play a pivotal role coming off the bench just like during the AFCON. The Fenerbahce defender remains an experienced backup and should be a contingency plan to offset the loss of Oboabona & Omeruo should either of the pair pick up injuries.
It will be a painstaking selection process for Keshi with some fringe players performing well against the Italians, but it’s a challenge the former Togo coach will relish.
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