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Nigeria vs. Seychelles: Which Super Eagles should Gernot Rohr start?

3:02 PM GMT+4 21/03/2019
Alex Iwobi, Gernot Rohr
The final Africa Cup of Nations qualifier is a dead rubber, and so lends itself to an element on team experimentation on the part of the German coach

The absence of real stakes is the prism through which Nigeria’s final qualifier against Seychelles will inevitably be viewed.

With the Super Eagles already qualified, and the visitors well out of the running for a spot in Egypt, the meeting of the respective sides in Asaba respects little more than an obligation in real terms.

There is, however, some less tangible benefit. Even if only accidentally – the injuries and withdrawals of the likes of Samuel Kalu and Ola Aina led to some last-minute changes – coach Gernot Rohr gets a chance to run the rule over a few new entrants into the squad.

With that in mind, who should get the nod to start against Seychelles?

GOALKEEPER

The Super Eagles have had a different goalkeeper starting in each of their last three matches. This, more than anything else, is an indicator of the indecision that has plagued the position.

Francis Uzoho was seen as the long-term custodian not too long ago, so much so that, despite his relative inexperience, he started all three matches at last summer’s World Cup. Since then, his stock has sadly plummeted: his loan move to Cyprus has been mired in controversy and uncertainty, and he seems to no longer have the absolute faith of the coach.

That may see Ikechukwu Ezenwa given the nod here, seeing as he appears to have settled into life at new club Katsina United. Daniel Akpeyi has failed to convince whenever given the chance, and has been a disappointment since his move to Kaizer Chiefs.

Ezenwa should start, although this might be just the sort of low-pressure game in which Uzoho can build confidence.

DEFENCE

One of the biggest question marks pertains to the continued lack of playing time for Leon Balogun.

The de facto leader at the back has been unable to shake the starters at Brighton and Hove Albion, and comes in extremely short on match fitness.

There will be no better time than now for Rohr to stick or twist. If he intends to make a change, now is the time to begin testing. Pairing Kenneth Omeruo with William Troost-Ekong is perhaps the way to go, if only to see whether they have a natural understanding which can be worked on.

At full-back, the unavailability of Ola Aina is a blow, and should mean Shehu Abdullahi continues on the right. On the left, Ikouwem Utin should make his international debut, with a view to starting Jamilu Collins against Egypt.

MIDFIELD

Wilfred Ndidi is an immovable object in the centre of the park, but the identity of his partner is rather more difficult to divine.

Oghenekaro Etebo shook off reports of an injury, and is in the running, while the recent goalscoring boom that Semi Ajayi has enjoyed at Rotherham has him in with a shout. John Ogu’s passing range is a left-field option. However, given Rohr’s previous preferences, Etebo might well be the one who gets the nod.

Alex Iwobi is the only real option to complete the midfield, and he ought to start just behind the forwards.

ATTACK

Rohr has already asserted that newly invited striker Paul Onuachu will play “at least 45 minutes” on Friday, which means the centre-forward slot is accounted for. The identity of those flanking him, however, remains a mystery.

The German also spoke of the prospect of a partnership with the pacier members of the team’s attacking corps. With the more instructive Egypt friendly to come, Henry Onyekuru will not get a better chance to stake a claim than Friday.

On the right, Moses Simon is the most logical choice. He has begun to rack up appearances at Levante, and remains a favourite of Rohr’s for his industry and endeavour. He has not started a game for the Super Eagles in over a year: this would be a good welcome back for the 23-year-old.

PROJECTED STARTING LINE-UP (4-4-2)

Ezenwa; Troost-Ekong, Omeruo, Shehu, Ikouwem; Ndidi, Etebo, Simon, Iwobi; Onyekuru, Onuachu.