With Adebayo Olodan
Saturday September 7, 2018 is an important date in the football calendar for Nigerian football aficionados especially as the Super Eagles take on Seychelles in an African Nations Cup qualifier away from home.
On a normal day, a match between Seychelles and Nigeria should not generate much attention but the Super Eagles is in a dire situation after surprisingly losing 2-0 to South Africa in their opening match at the Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo, last year. The team is presently placed third in Group E, making Saturday’s match a must-win for the Eagles.
Dropping another point this time on the road may out paid to Nigeria’s ambition of playing in the 2019 African Nations Cup scheduled for Cameroon.
Of late, the Eagles have not been consistent as the team has lost in matches you expect them to win convincingly but turned up securing at least a draw in matches you expect them to be taken apart especially with a depleted squad. The outcome of the match against Seychelles will depend largely on which Eagles team shows up on Saturday.
Gernot Rohr made the right decision by extending invitation to a number of young players and awaiting debutants, the coach however erred by including few inactive players in his 24-man squad for the trip to Seychelles.
Among the players whose invitation are questionable is long serving goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa, who has struggled to dethrone Ghanaian keeper, Fatau Dauda. Infact, Ezenwa according to report is currently the third choice in the Aba Millionaires set-up behind Dauda and former Kano Pillars safe hands, Theophilus Afelokhai. Perhaps, the coach should have used the opportunity to invite one of the Nigerian-born young goalkeepers playing in the lower leagues of Germany, Switzerland or England.
Also debatable is the invitation of central defender, Chidozie Awaziem, who has found playing time limited at his Portuguese club, FC Porto.
Though Ogenyi Onazi turned in a goal for Trabzonspor in the Turkish League at the weekend, I however remain adamant that his career in the senior national team is over. The diminutive midfielder has had his best days in the green and white shirt and I believe it is time for him to be sacrificed for younger midfield players.
For new invitees; Semiu Ajayi and Jamiu Collins, the match may afford them the opportunity to win the hearts of 180 million Nigerians and more importantly the coach. It will be a dream come true for the young lads who were earlier part of the national team set-up at the school boy level.
Three invitations that particularly gladdens my heart is that of Kelechi Nwakali, who impressed in the 2-3 defeat of the Super Eagles B team ahead of the 2018 World Cup and that of Samuel Kalu and Henry Onyekuru. In the absence of Moses Simeon and Victor Moses, who retired prematurely from the national team, Kalu and Onyekuru will offer Nigeria option on the flanks. They however need to impress the coach enough in training to get the nod to play in that position.
In the past, the Eagles struggled to gather points on the road but that record may be confined to the past with this present set of players.
Already the Super Eagles have been depleted following the injuries sustained by Torino loanee, Ola Aina, Udinese defender, William Troost-Ekong and the absence of Arsenal midfielder, Alex Iwobi. The absence of the trio leaves the coach with only 21 players to work with for the match and the situation is compounded with reports that only 12 players have arrived camp as at Tuesday afternoon.
In midfield, it will be interesting to see John Ogu in action after he was restricted to the substitutes’ bench by the coach in Russia. His combination with Wilfred Ndidi and Oghenekaro Etebo is expected to trouble the host team at the Stade Linte in Seychelles.
Should there be any need for a player to come off the substitutes’ bench Nwakali deserves to be that first name,
Upfront, the coach is spoilt for choice as he could call on Saudi Arabia-based Ahmed Musa, China-based Odion Ighalo, Simeon Nwankwo from Serie A, Kelechi Iheanacho among others. The goals scored by Ighalo in the Chinese Super League aside, I believed it is high time we allowed another player lead the line for us. One player that should be considered favourably is Simy who appeared built for African football especially when the team is playing away from home. The Crotone forward has the height and body size to trouble any defender. He is also one forward that runs for the duration of the match. Handing him a starting berth against Seychelles will not be a bad idea but it is up to him to prove to the gaffer that he is the man for the job in Seychelles.
To get the needed result, coach Rohr must line-up his best players with the right attitude. The German must also get his formation and tactics right in addition to his substitutions.
Nigerians must however pray that 34-year-old Kenyan referee; David Omweno does not spoil the fun for the Eagles.