By Ed Dove
As January draws to a close, the World Cup pulls ever closer. The beginning of February means that Nigeria’s opening match against Iran is only four-and-a-half months away.
In this article, in light of the Super Eagles’ encouraging performances at the CHAN tournament in South Africa, Goal Nigeria look ahead to the potential World Cup 23, assessing who is a ‘near-certainty’ and who is merely a ‘possible’ for the Brazil squad.
Naturally, this selection will chop and change as the coming months unfold and the tournament draws closer.
Vincent Enyeama may have missed out on the Ligue 1 record for consecutive clean sheets, but the Lille man’s fine form has established him firmly as one of the globe’s most-accomplished stoppers. As things stand, Keshi would be mad to install anyone else as Number One within the squad. Enyeama, in particular, will relish the prospect of renewing his acquaintance with Lionel Messi—the ‘keeper was in fine form against Argentina in South Africa four years ago.
Austin Ejide & Chigozie Agbim Ejide has been a steady reserve for a long time now, and his recent showing against Italy (before injury struck) has confirmed his place as a worthy back-up to Enyeama.
For Agbim, the road is much murkier. The sturdy goalkeeper has been responsible for numerous goals conceded by Nigeria during the CHAN tournament. Keshi has backed his man, but how long will his faith endure?
Could Agbim’s errors rule him out of the Super Eagles’ World Cup party?
Elderson Echiejile, Efe Ambrose, Godfrey Oboabona, Azubuike Egwuekwe & Kenneth Omeruo This quintet have established themselves as Keshi stalwarts. Egwuekwe is often the man left out of the starting line-up, but he has had the chance to prove himself to the Big Boss during the CHAN competition and was called-up during the Confederations Cup six months ago.
The other four should be confident of retaining their starting berths, but Elderson needs to usurp Layvin Kurzawa since moving to Monaco and Kenneth Omeruo needs to receive playing time in the Championship with Middlesbrough.
Elderson | Can he unseat Layvin Kurzawa at AS Monaco?
Solomon Kwambe, Francis Benjamin, James Okwuosa, Joseph Yobo
The domestic-based pair of Francis Benjamin and Solomon Kwambe look set to earn themselves squad places due to their consistent call-ups under Keshi and the sustained absence of the likes of Taye Taiwo and Onyekachi Apam.
Kwambe, however, may need to improve, having endured a mixed CHAN tournament to date.
Many Goal Nigeria have questioned whether Joseph Yobo should be recalled to the Super Eagles squad. The Fenerbahce centre-back brings experience and defensive stability, but is he over the hill and, perhaps more importantly, what effect may he have on the morale within Keshi’s collective?
John Obi Mikel, Ogenyi Onazi, Nnamdi Oduamadi, Sunday Mba, John Ogu
John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi have, over the last 12 months, proved themselves to be an irreplaceable pairing within the heart of the Nigeria midfield. Mikel is the side’s emotional heartbeat, while Onazi is his foil, the goods out back, as it were.
The competition for the ‘Third Man’ role in midfield, should Keshi opt to play 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1, will continue until the finals. Three names who will look to be in a good position to make the squad are Sunday Mba, Nnamdi Oduamadi and John Ogu.
All three have been squad regulars since the Cup of Nations.
Joel Obi | Little more than a Fantasy Option?
Fegor Ogude, Lukman Haruna, Joel Obi, Nosa Igiebor, Reuben Gabriel, Ejike Uzoenyi
Nosa Igiebor remains a great hope for Nigeria, but few of us have seen much from him over the last 12 months to suggest that he can be the kind of playmaker the Super Eagles crave.
Joel Obi, eternally injured, is looking like a fantasy option at this point in time. The midfielder may have all of the raw materials, but his record of one start and three substitute appearances since arriving at Parma does not bode well.
Lukman Haruna’s name has been tossed around by fans, and even referenced by Keshi, but it won’t be until the next international friendly that we can learn whether or not the box-to-box midfielder is genuinely being considered as an option.
Fegor has been out of the squad since the Mandela Challenge, squeezed out of contention by Onazi and John Ogu. It may well take an injury to either of those two, or a genuine revival in Russia, with Amkar Perm, for him to find a spot in the World Cup squad.
Ejike Uzoenyi’s superb performances at the Cup of Nations have seen the former Rennes trialist thrust right back into the limelight—he clearly has the quality to thrive in a tournament setting, but can he find the consistency to forge a spot on the plane to Brazil?
Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa, Ideye Brown, Victor Obinna
All five look in a good position to make the World Cup squad at this point in time.
Emenike surely must travel. The explosive forward is a big-game player, who thrived at the Cup of Nations, and could be a star in Brazil.
Musa, also, is a lethal weapon whose pace and ingenuity should guarantee him a spot on the plane, if not the first XI.
Moses’s inactivity at Liverpool, where he has been edged out of the first team by the likes of Danny Sturridge, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, is of concern and the former Crystal Palace man is struggling for momentum.
Emenike | Must surely travel
Victor Obinna has looked like a good fit for the squad since being recalled by Keshi for the Mandela Challenge. He is a versatile option who fits comfortably into the Super Eagles’ fluid forward line. His goal against Ethiopia in the second-leg of the World Cup Qualifying has put him on the plane—for now at least.
Ideye Brown may have his detractors as a non-goal-scoring forward, but he is a favourite of Keshi and missed only one squad throughout 2013. His influence in the first XI may have waned as 2013 drew on, but he should make the squad.
Bright Dike, Shola Ameobi, Joseph Akpala, Mohammed Gambo, Anthony Ujah
Dike and Ameobi clearly interest Keshi, who has experimented with ways of trying to get one or both of them into the team. There are issues, however. Ameobi remains remarkably goal-shy at Newcastle, while the signings of Jermain Defoe and Gilberto throw doubt on the Nigerian’s future at Toronto FC.
Competition for places makes it unlikely that both of the big men will travel to Brazil.
Surely, only injuries, severe injuries, would see Keshi turning to any of the troubled trio of Joseph Akpala, Mohammed Gambo and Anthony Ujah.