FEATURE By Kolade Oni Follow on Twitter
As the Nigeria Professional Football League heads towards its conclusion, Goal celebrates some of the key men throughout the campaign.
During this week, we will present the five key players in each position acros the division; in this episode, we focus on the division's finest defenders.
|Chinedu Udoji - Enyimba|
Udoji has been very consistent in the NPFL for the past three seasons and his never-say-die approach and his leadership see him ranked among the division's finest defenders once again.
If the People’s Elephant manage to win the league this season for their record-setting seventh crown, the Aba Giants owe Udoji immense credit.
In a season in which Enyimba’s strikers have failed to deliver, Udoji and his fellow defenders and midfielders have taken it upon themselves to score some crucial goals. He scored two vital efforts to send Wikki Tourists home empty handed in Aba late September, and also contributed the match-winner against stubborn 3SC last Sunday.
His form handed him an invitation to the Super Eagles camp under former coach Stephen Keshi, and it remains to be seen whether Sunday Oliseh will take a look at the Enyimba skipper.
|Stephen Eze - Sunshine Stars|
Eze has become a better defender since he decided to leave Makurdi-based Lobi Stars for Sunshine last season.
He stood his ground to go to Sunshine despite Lobi’s insistence on keeping him. Considering this young and enterprising defender was spotted in the streets of Gboko by Dominic Iorfa, Eze has improved tremendously and if he keeps humble, the sky will be his starting point!
He scores crucial goals too with his head because of his massive height, and having trained with the national side recently, will represent the home-based Eagles in their upcoming Chan qualifier.
|Yinka Adedeji - 3SC|
Adedeji is one of the players spotted by Samson Siasia in the junior national team set up. He was at the 2005 African Youth Championship-winning Flying Eagles side, but injuries have affected his rise in the game since.
The defender was also in Nigeria's U20 team at the Fifa U20 World Cup held in the Netherlands in 2005, but was omitted in the final list of the U23 side for the 2008 Olympic Games in China on the account of injury he copped shortly before the competition. Injuries have been his albatross ever since.
Adedieji has, however, managed to stay fit for most part of the current season, where he has featured in over 25 games for 3SC after he left Sharks for another stint with the Ibadan side. He has also been instrumental in the Oluyole Warriors’ stellar performance in the league this season, where they are almost certain to remain in the elite division with his 13 assists to aid 3SC’s goals ratio from his left full-back position.
3SC were neck deep in relegation battle before the coming of Gbenga Ogunbote coincided with the impeccable form of Adedeji and they are now comfortably in the middle of the table and 11 points clear of relegation.
|Chima Akas - Sharks|
Akas has been one of the shining lights in the Blue Angels’ disappointing campaign in the NPFL this season, and it's little wonder that he earned his Super Eagles debut against Uganda’s Cranes in March this year under Stephen Keshi. He has also clearly endeared himself to Sunday Oliseh as well.
The full-back was in the Eagles squad for the double-header against the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon played last week in Belgium.
He has also been exceptional for Sharks this season and has contributed his class to the Blue Angels’ battling attempts to stay in the Premier League beyond this season. His crucial strike for Sharks earned his side three points during the last Port Harcourt derby against Dolphins, and will go down in the annals of the club if they do manage to escape the drop at the end of the season.
Wil be in action for the home-based Eagles during the Chan qualifiers later this month.
|Ibrahim Mustapha - Wikki Tourists|
Mustapha is an ex-schoolboy international and was in the late Yemi Tella's Golden Eaglets side that toppled the world at the Korea 2007 Fifa U17 World Cup. As captain of Wikki Tourists, he has been outstanding as the Bauchi side have impressed upon their return to the top flight.
Wikki had one the best defence after the first half of the campaign before they capitulated 4-0 in the last game of the first stanza in Oba against Heartland. That was due largely to the composure and the leadership qualities of Mustapha in defence. They have not conceded more than two goals in a game since then.
He also assisted Wikki to four away victories and three draws in the league this season, and only heavyweights Enyimba have more than that in the elite division this season. Wikki are still in pole position to grab a continental ticket at the end of the season if they keep their composure intact, and Mustapha must take some of the accolades if that becomes a reality.