By Emeka Nwani | NPL Editor
Twenty three years ago, Clemens Westerhoff took a bunch of unknown players from the Nigerian League to the 1990 Africa Cup of Nations. Westerhoff who was then coach of the Super Eagles at that time, felt the players were sufficiently talented to begin to show their skills in the National Team with some of them making their debut at the Cup of Nations.
In their first game, they lost 6-1 to Algeria, and every football fan in Nigeria rain abuses on the Dutchman for fielding virtually unknown players. But Westerhoff was confident after the drubbing from Algeria and he was emphatic in saying that the team will play to the finals of the tournament.
Just like he predicted, the team played the same Algeria in the finals of the competition and lost 1-0. Westerhoff said after the competition that there is no need going abroad to look for players when he can watch the Nigerian league and discover the talents that abound in the country.
The Dutchman was able to successfully turn around the fortunes of the home based players and that gave some form of recognition to the League in Nigeria. The players became the fulcrum of his five years stay in Nigeria and he made maximum use of them in every game, even though at that time, Nigeria cannot boast of so many foreign based players.
Current Super Eagles coach Stephen Keshi seems to have imbibed the ideals of Clemens Westerhoff. Immediately he was named the coach of the senior national team, he made his intentions known by saying that he would give the home based players equal opportunity like their foreign-based counterparts.
He started by inviting a lot of the players to Abuja to form a home based team, and in no time he was able to raise a good team with all players based in Nigeria. And when he decided to recall the foreign based players, he already had fit players who were ready to give their best.
After the long camping and playing friendly matches, the boys were ready for the big stage. Keshi did not hesitate to start playing the home based players in key Super Eagles matches in the World and Nations Cup qualifiers. The home based players featured prominently in all the matches.
And when it was time for Keshi to make the list of his players to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations known, he did not hesitate to call up six players from the Nigeria Premier League.
Goal.com profiles the six NPL ambassadors that are making the case for the local lads in Nigeria's Afcon 2013 squad.
|CHIGOZIE AGBIM (ENUGU RANGERS)
Chigozie Agbim is one of the best goalkeepers in the Nigeria Premier League. He is well experienced having played for some of the best clubs in the country. He has remained consistent over the years in the Nigeria Premier League where he is highly rated. He is one of the goalkeepers that will never have any problem with his club management.
Since he was first invited to Stephen Keshi's team, he has wormed his way into the hearts of the coaching crew and has been rewarded with a place in the Super Eagles side to the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
|REUBEN GABRIEL (KANO PILLARS)
In 2007, Reuben Gabriel was a unknown quantity with Kaduna United. After two years with the Kaduna based side, he moved to Enyimba and that is where his talents began to show. And in Kano Pillars, he blossomed and everybody came to realise that Gabriel is a player that should keep a permanent shirt with the Super Eagles.Stephen Keshi did not wait long before inviting him and he has not failed to deliver. He is a midfield enforcer and will form a oerfect partnership with Mikel Obi and Nosa Igiebor in the midfield department of the Super Eagles. Gabriel is one of the players that Stephen Keshi will rely on at the Nations Cup.
|EJIKE UZOENYI (ENUGU RANGERS)
Uzoenyi remains one of the players in the present Super Eagles team that can use his left foot to an advantage. His is one player that does not joke with his career and that is why he gives his all in every game. In Rangers, they know him as a player who is committed to his job. He is one of the players in the team that can use his left foot very well and that will come in handy in some of the matches.
|SUNDAY MBA (ENUGU RANGERS)
If any coach is looking for a player that is ready to work his hearts out, then midfielder Sunday Mba fits that bill. Mba is one player that may not be visible during matches, but he does a lot to stabilise the team at all times. Mba is one player that is bound to give Stephen Keshi cover at numerous positions. Mba will act as a good cover for the attacking midfielders in the team.
|GODFREY OBOABONA (SUNSHINE STARS)
Oboabuna has grown in leaps and bounds since he joined Sunshine Stars six years ago. He emerged the highest scoring defender with six goals last season and has turned out to be the player that will soon explode in the Super Eagles. He has gained a measure of confidence since his Nigeria debut in the game against Rwanda.
He is one of the most versatile players in the Nigeria Premier League. Oboabuna has the unique quality of playing from any position on the field except goalkeeping. He has played as a striker, midfielder and defender for Sunshine Stars. Oboabuna is one player that is ready for the world stage with the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
|AZUBUIKE EGWUEKE (WARRI WOLVES)
He has severally been rated as one of the best defenders in the Nigeria Premier League. He brings his height to an advantage in every match and he will surely act as a good back up for the central defenders during the Cup of Nations. Azubuike is waiting for any opportunity to show what he can do and the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations is the perfect place to tell everyone that he is ready to take his pride of place in the Super Eagles team to South Africa.