Ola Aina ready to make his mark for Nigeria

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The full-back didn't get on the pitch against Cameroon, but will Gernot Rohr involve him against Zambia this weekend?


The Super Eagles of Nigeria take on the Chipolopolo of Zambia this weekend at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium in the penultimate game of the Group B 2018 World Cup qualifiers, with both sides still in the running for Russia

It’s a match in which Nigeria need to get a result to remain in pole position to take one of the five African spots in Russia next year.

Considering that Gernot Rohr’s men triumphed in Ndola last October, they should be able to get the job done, and will know that a win in front of their own fans would guarantee their place at the global footballing showpiece.

The German tactician has retained the same squad that earned four points in the double header over Cameroon last month, and while he appears poised to name the same XI, one player who deserves Rohr's attention is Ola Aina.CAF WC Qualification Group B

The 20-year old, currently on loan at Hull City from Chelsea, was on the bench against the Indomitable Lions after getting his clearance to play for the Super Eagles since switching allegiance from England to Nigeria.

There are concerns that Aina lacks international experience to play a game as crucial as this but his showings for the Tigers in the Championship have been top notch; he has been ever-present for Leonid Slutsky’s side this term, laying two assists, the latest which came in Hull’s 6-1 bashing of Birmingham City at the weekend.

Aina has showed promise right from his days in the youth ranks with Chelsea. So impressive was he that he won the admiration of Jose Mourinho and now Antonio Conte, with versatility one of his key assets.

The 20-year old is primarily a right-back but is equally adept at playing at left-back and centre-back.

He’s got confidence when in possession of the ball, has incredible pace and is efficient in aerial duels and interceptions.

Aina’s ability to surge forward and fall back when needed makes him the perfect full-back, drawing comparison with Cesar Azpilicueta.

Ola Aina Hull City

Aina faces competition at right-back in the form of Shehu Abdullahi – who did a fine job defensively against Cameroon, but the Southwark-born defender could also be utilised on the left.

Rohr has consistently used Elderson Echiejile as left-back, but the 29-year-old has often struggled.

He continues to be a shadow of himself, lacking the required defensive and offensive sharpness, and very prone to losing possession.


What’s more, the majority of Nigeria’s conceded goals since Rohr took charge have come from Echiejile’s side, raising the prospect that opponents are targetting the full-back.

The Sivasspor man might have 56 caps to his name and played at the highest level, appearing at the World Cup, in the Uefa Champions League, and winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, but his recent outings do not hint at his considerable experience.

Elderson Echiejile

This is where Aina needs to come in.

His heart has been set out on playing for Nigeria, with captain John Obi Mikel having an impact on him during the Tianjin TEDA midfielder’s time at Stamford Bridge. An opportunity to be called up to what Aina has dreamed of, and expect him to be raring to go for the West African giants.

“I am very proud and honoured to be wearing the Super Eagles’ jersey," he told Goal ahead of the Cameroon clash. "It has been a dream come true and I am relishing every second of my stay here.”

Ola Aina & Chuba Akpom

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It may be an important match, but don't expect Aina to be overawed by the occasion.

He's adapted seamlessly to life in the Championship - a notoriously punishing league - while he's been surrounded by able mentors throughout his young career, from compatriot Victor Moses to Chelsea stalwarts such as John Terry, Garry Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Azpilicueta.

Will Rohr be bold and opt to throw Aina into the mix at the expense of one of his two full-backs - ideally the underwhelming Elderson - or will this precocious wideman have to wait for another day to make his long-awaited bow?