Goal Nigeria remember the fine performances of domestic-based players during the Cup of Nations and look at who the next break-out star might be.
By Samuel Okediji & Ed Dove
This current Super Eagles, under the tutelage of coach Stephen Keshi, wouldn't have been so famous in this current day and time without the'extra push' or sheer brilliance shown by Godfrey Obabona and the heroic Sunday Mba. This pair were two of the heroes of the Cup of Nations triumph in early 2013 and their names will never be forgotten in the minds of football-loving Nigerians.
Prior to the AFCON tournament, there were fumes from all parts of the country about the quality of domestic-based players that the ‘Big Boss’ took to South Africa. In the aftermath of the tournament, however, his decision to take that particular cohort of home-grown characters to the touranament was wholly justified. The rest, as they say, is history.
The exceptional performances of the local lads were so irresistible that the starting position of the Super Eagles captain, the broadly-experienced Joseph Yobo, was placed into a state of jeopardy. After a shaky opening showing from the Super Eagles captain, he was replaced by Kenneth Omerup and hasn’t started a game since.
In his absence, it was the rock solid former-Sunshine Stars man Godfrey Oboabona who took on the mantle for being the defensive leader. The stopper marshalled the backline effectively, looking particularly impressive again Didier Drogba in the unforgettable quarter final against the Cote d’ivoire, meaning that Yobo was barely missed.
There was, however, no bigger, better revelation than Sunday Mba, who filled the midfield void caused by the ineffectiveness of Nosa Igiebor. Mba’s two decisive solo goals saw off the Cote d’Ivoire and then a rejuvenated Burkina Faso in the final.
Sunday Mba | Built his legacy at the AFCON
Recently, the domestic-based Super Eagles side performed admirably at the CHAN tournament, their first-ever foray into the competition. They finished in third place behind Ghana and Libya.
Had luck been on our side, and had physical, gifted forward Gbolahan Salami been fit, things could have been even-more impressive for Stephen Keshi’s men.
Keshi’s confidence in the home-based players is so high that a number of the CHAN team have been called-up for the imminent friendly against Mexico. Abdullahi Shehu, CHAN’s MVP Ejike Uzoenyi and Kunle Odunlami have all received a golden opportunity to impress ahead of the final World Cup call.
The Big Boss looks to be searching, once again, for the next home-based revelation.
These players shouldn’t lack any kind of incentive. The prospect of starring, even featuring at the World Cup, and establishing a global reputation like those of Oboabona and Mba should be motivation enough for these unheralded players to make the most of any opportunity that may come their way.
Oboabona | Hasn't looked back since taking Yobo's mantle
Ejike Uzoenyi, who looked so impressive for the Super Eagles during the CHAN, looks to be the most likely player to steal the show in Brazil. The winger is perfectly capable of giving the likes of Ahmed Musa and Nnamdi Oduamadi a run for their money and should receive some playing time against Mexico.
If Uzoenyi can continue his fine CHAN momentum, then he could be primed to make a difference, as a starter or as an impact substitute.
Odunlami will likely find himself behind Oboabona, Kenneth Omeruo and the returning Joseph Yobo in the pecking order, but there is no reason why he can’t unsettle Azubuike Egwuekwe, who has occasionally looked unconvincing for Nigeria over the last 12 months.
Kano pillars’ long-range expert Abdullahi Shehu’s powerful shot, pace and incisive passing could be an unpredictable option coming off the bench.
The blend of domestic and foreign-based stars has served Stephen Keshi well during his tenure to date, and there is every reason to believe that one or two of the NPL stars to have been called-up by the ‘Big Boss’ might be able to see some game time in Brazil. Could the Super Eagles unveil a new domestic-based star to continue the fine succession of Oboabona and Mba?