Having missed the last two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, it’s imperative that Nigeria start this campaign strongly in Saturday’s qualifier against South Africa in Uyo.
The Super Eagles are unbeaten under Gernot Rohr, and with a World Cup qualifier to come against Cameroon in August, he’ll be desperate to keep morale high.
As a victory is a must for Nigeria, and it’s imperative that the German coach gets his team selection right.
In this feature, Goal run down the big decisions facing Rohr ahead of Saturday’s showdown.
Regular stopper Carl Ikeme misses out of the squad due to injury, leaving room for Daniel Akpeyi, Ikechukwu Ezenwa and Dele Alampasu.
Akpeyi is second in line and is the preferred choice to start this game, although there might be concerns over his ability between the sticks as he doesn’t have the kind of composure and command Ikeme has.
However Akpeyi, who plies his trade with Chippa United in the South African Premier Soccer League, knows the Bafana squad and may offer an advantage there.
Nigeria know the value of defending stoutly, particularly against Bafana.
It was the backline’s lapse in concentration that allowed Tokelo Rantie to score a brace in the 2015 Afcon qualifier that ended 2-2 in Uyo, denying Nigeria the chance to defend the crown they won on South African soil back in 2013.
That said, Gernot Rohr seems to have a preferred back four which comprises of Kenneth Omeruo, Leon Balogun, William Troost-Ekong and Elderson Echiejile.
Balogun and Troost-Ekong have formed such a strong partnership in the centre of defence, but with the former out injured, expect FC Porto's Chidozie Awaziem to step in.
He's had a fantastic season in Portugal and having made his debut recently against Togo, the 20 year-old should do a good job if called upon.
Omeruo and Echiejile haven’t offered the best defensively as full-backs and this might be a concern.
However, while Abdullahi Shehu is an option for right-back, both men have a combined 84 international caps between them and as the saying goes, experience can’t be bought.
The perfect combo in the middle of the park would be Ogenyi Onazi, Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo, and the trio all had fantastic campaigns for their respective clubs abroad this season.
Onazi was ever-present for Trabzonspor, playing 38 times., while Etebo was a key member of the Feirense squad. While he often played in attack, his abilities in midfield make the Olympic bronze medallist a vital asset here.
Ndidi has been a revelation since signing for Leicester City in January.
His arrival brought a spark to the Foxes, who underperformed in the first half of the Premier League campaign, prompting comparisons with N’Golo Kante.
While Ahmed Musa netted twice against Togo, Alex Iwobi, Kelechi Iheanacho and Henry Onyekuru would be the perfect pick to start against South Africa.
Iwobi’s season at Arsenal started on a brilliant note, but once the Gunners suffered a dip in form, the 21-year-old slumped too.
Regardless of the setback, Iwobi has grown to become an important member of the Super Eagles.
Iheanacho didn’t get enough playing time under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City but that has in no way affected his international form. With the likes of Odion Ighalo and Brown Ideye missing out, there’s no one better to deliver the goods than the 2013 U-17 World Cup Golden Ball winner.
Onyekuru is the final player worthy of starting against South Africa.
The 20-year old had a season to remember in the Belgian top flight where he scored 22 goals for Eupen. It would be a bold move to start him ahead of Musa, but Onyekuru is red hot right now, and his unpredictability could hurt Bafana.