There were few surprises when Nigeria coach Gernot Rohr last Monday announced his squad for this month’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifying double header against Libya.
Bar the return of Isaac Success, the consistency of squad selection suggests that Rohr has settled on his core squad, and will only add or subtract based on variables like form, and injuries.
That said, there are a number of players who could well have been rewarded for their performance so far this season.
Ikouwem Udoh, Enyimba
If there is one position where Rohr is struggling to find a long term solution, it’s at left back. Since the World Cup, Elderson Echiejile has effectively been discarded, while Bryan Idowu has barely convinced and is not featuring enough at Lokomotiv Moscow.
Jamilu Collins was called up from the German second division’s SC Paderborn during the last squad announcement but did not see any minutes against the Seychelles.
For a player who only made his professional debut in 2017, aged 17, Udoh has been on the fast track to stardom. He appeared from left field as replacement for the injured Daniel Itodo at the African Nations Championship, and became an instant hit.
Earlier this year, he was named captain of Nigeria’s under 20 team and has been part of Enyimba’s charge to the CAF Confederation Cup semi finals, scoring in their 5-1 quarterfinal win over Rayon Sport.
Theophilus Afelokhai, Enyimba
Afelokhai’s continued exclusion from the Super Eagles’ fold is one of the biggest head scratchers of Rohr’s squad selection policies. The goalkeeper, who is currently first choice at Enyimba, continues to prove himself game by game with the People’s Elephant, to the point where Ikechukwu Ezenwa is restricted to mostly Cup games against minor opposition.
It is understandable that with Ezenwa such a long term part of the Nigeria squad he would continue to get called up. But Afelokhai has done enough, and done it consistently, over the last few years, from Kano Pillars to Enyimba, to at least earn himself the reward of a phone call.
Ebere Eze, Queens Park Rangers
At 20, Eze is young, but boy is he talented. Watching live games and Youtube videos of Eze raise nostalgic feelings of Austin Okocha, but with more directness.
England-born Eze’s excellent technique means he can turn on a dime, can pick a pass, and has the ability to waltz through two or more opposition players.
With John Obi Mikel currently sidelined, these games should have offered the coach an opportunity to give the youngster a run and see what he brings to the table, especially after cutting Kelechi Nwakali.
Efe Ambrose, Hibernian
He’s not a big favourite among Super Eagles fans, who would point to his propensity for being one error away from handing the opposition the game, but Efe Ambrose has been one of the most consistent Nigerian players over the last couple of seasons.
This term alone the defender has played in the Scottish Premier League, Scottish Cup and UEFA Europa League, for a total of 12 games and and two goals in the process. No other Super Eagles player has played that many competitive matches this season, and certainly no other defender can boast those goals.
His one drawback – by Rohr’s youth-oriented reckoning – is his age, at 29. But one would think that if form and consistency are the measures of selection, Ambrose has more than earned his keep.
Reuben Yem, AS Trencin
Not many would have heard of Reuben Yem, the 20-year-old who plays for AS Trencin in Slovakia.
Like Ambrose, he has proven to be a regular and consistent part of the club’s campaign so far this season, playing in all eight league games and three out of four Europa League matches.
With Shehu Abdullahi not having played enough, and Tyronne Ebuehi injured, Yem would have offered a standby option on the depth chart. Or given chance at evaluation, anyway.