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Paul Onuachu: Nigeria’s imperative alternative?

7:41 AM GMT+8 20/03/2019
Ebere Paul Onuachu Europa League
Gernot Rohr has replaced Kelechi Iheanacho with the FC Midtjylland hitman in an attempt to bolster his Super Eagles attack
FC Midtjylland were already overachieving in the Europa League three years ago when they were holding mighty Manchester United to a 1-1 draw in their Round of 32 clash.

Pione Sisto had cancelled out Memphis Depay’s opener moments before half-time, and the contest was in the balance, with the Red Devils showing some of their characteristic hesitancy under Louis van Gaal.

Then, in the 77th minute, 21-year-old Paul Onuachu compensated for initially fumbling a dribble attempt, and then rifled in a low shot that beat Sergio Romero, standing in for injured David De Gea.

The youngster, who left Nigerian side FC Ebedei in 2013, had announced himself to a watching world as Midtjylland held on to clinch a 2-1 triumph.

Belatedly, some may say, Onuachu finally has the opportunity to introduce himself to Super Eagles fans as well, after being handed a maiden call-up for Nigeria’s upcoming games against Seychelles—an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier—and a friendly against Egypt.

Yet with the Afcon on the horizon, Gernot Rohr clearly feels that his current striking options aren’t proficient enough.

Certainly, the plight of Kelechi Iheanacho, who has just one goal in 25 Premier League outings so far this term, contrasts starkly with Onuachu’s form in recent seasons.

The forward netted 18 in 36 in the Danish top flight in the 2016-17 season, 10 in 22 the season after, and already has 14 in 23 so far this term.

He’s the latest in a long succession of striking options that Rohr has assessed since being appointed as Eagles coach.

While Odion Ighalo overcame his World Cup blues with a series of fine displays in 2018’s Afcon qualifiers, Iheanacho, Ideye Brown, Simy Nwankwo, Junior Lokosa and Junior Ajayi have been assessed and discarded.

Ighalo appears primed to start for the West Africans in Egypt, but certainly, there’s an opening in the squad for another option at centre-forward—it’s an opportunity that Onuachu must grasp with both hands.

Nigeria certainly need cover in this position, as too often, the team have relied on goals from wide players such as Moses Simon, Samuel Kalu and, notably, Ahmed Musa.

The current dearth of central striking options comes in stark contrast to past Nigeria sides, who have been able to call upon the likes of Rashidi Yekini, Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Daniel Amokachi and Ikechukwu Uche, all of whom were proficient at devastating defences.

Onuachu’s goalscoring form means he deserves his chance, while at 201cm, he represents a different kind of option for the Eagles; the kind of alternative centre-forward who can offer a Plan B if defences are proving stubborn to break down.

In the fixtures to come, the 24-year-old has the chance to realise the potential he demonstrated in that giant-killing of Manchester United, and to prove that he can be the missing ingredient in Nigeria’s attack.

Segun Odunayo