There is a new era in the coaching crew of the Super Eagles. Stephen Keshi has been moved aside and Sunday Oliseh is the new man in charge.
With the list of Super Eagles players to prosecute September’s 2017 AFCON qualifier against the Taifa Stars of Tanzania expected to be released soon by Oliseh which will be his first game as Eagles new boss, Completesportsnigeria.com’s IZUCHUKWU OKOSI looks at the key areas where there will be intense competition for spots in the squad…
1. LEON BALOGUN vs EFE AMBROSE
The right-back position will be keenly contested by the duo of Leon Balogun and Efe Ambrose.
FSV Mainz of Germany’s Balogun last played for the Eagles in this position during the 2017 AFCON qualifier against Chad at the Ahmedu Bello Stadium, Kaduna on June 13, 2015.
Efe Ambrose may feel a sense of ownership of the position having been deployed there by former coach, Stephen Keshi, during his bittersweet reign.
However the emergence of Balogun who now plays in the more prestigious and competitive German Bundesliga might count for something and against Ambrose, who is a player of Celtic, a Scottish Premier League side.
Both players have pace to run down the channels but Balogun’s ability to recover faster than Ambrose to do his defensive duties tilts this battle towards his favour.
2. ELDERSON ECHIEJILE vs JUWON OSHANIWA vs KINGSLEY MADU
There is a new entrant in the race for the left-back position in the Super Eagles, he is Kingsley Madu.
The AS Trencin of Slovakia star made his senior international debut in the 2-0 defeat of Chad, which was Stephen Keshi’s last game in charge of the Nigerian national team.
Keshi invited so many players to the Eagles in his seemingly never-ending team rebuilding but the introduction of the former youth international seems to be one invitation to the team that Nigerian football faithful will have less to complain about.
Madu acquitted himself well in the game defensively and on a number of times unleashed powerful shots when he joined the attack.
However AS Monaco’s Elderson Echiejile has been a great player to call upon in this position and his experience in the Principality club means he will always be considered for now as the best bet for left-back duty.
Echiejile won the 2013 AFCON title with the Eagles and has great working relationship with the other defenders across the Eagles’ backline.
Oliseh will most possibly go with the tested and trusted at least, in his first game with the Eagles in September.
Hearts defender Juwon Oshaniwa is the least stylish of the defenders in this role but he does his job diligently.
Oliseh will have some headache deciding who takes this one because when the trio are fit and in some kind of good form, they are delights to watch.
Madu offers youth, Oshaniwa assures you of hard work, while Echiejile gives you a bit of both qualities, at least for the Nigerian team.
3. GODFREY OBOABONA vs WILLIAM TROOST-EKONG
The battle to decide who partners Kenneth Omeruo will be one to watch out for.
Oboabona struck an understanding with Kenneth Omeruo in the Stephen Keshi era and both marshalled the central defence admirably at the 2013 AFCON finals, helping Nigeria win the title for the third time.
However the Rizespor of Turkey defender’s high ratings have dropped considerably, admittedly not helped by his ankle injury which almost stopped him from being part of the Super Eagles squad to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Oboabona’s performances for the Super Eagles in recent times have not been top notch and ominously there could be new boys on the horizon to usurp him and prove to be capable partners for Omeruo.
One of them is Gent of Belgium’s new signing, William Troost Ekong, who made his international debut against Chad.
The 21-year-old Ekong was pivotal in the team’s win against the Chadians and particularly covered lots of grounds for his fellow defenders.
Although not much has been seen of him, the early signs are encouraging. There are some more options though in the Nigeria Premier League and in Europe.
4. RABIU IBRAHIM vs NOSA IGIEBOR vs KELECHI IHEANACHO
This is one tantalising battle too difficult to call.
Chelsea midfielder John Mikel Obi has been playing in the number 10 role for the Super Eagles but so many Nigerians still do not consider him that ideal playmaker the Eagles need in the mould of Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Etim Esin or Friday Ekpo.
Mikel plays in the defensive midfield for his club and Completesportsnigeria.com in the piece: 6 PLAYERS IN THE RACE TO BECOME NEW OLISEH considered the long-serving Chelsea star as one of the stars Oliseh could deploy in the defensive midfield role to screen the defence.
Rabiu Ibrahim was so good for Nigeria’s Golden Eaglets that won the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2007 that he was later touted the ‘New Jay Jay Okocha’ because of his creative game which could swing victories for his team.
The midfielder who now plays for Slovakian side FK AS Trencin has somewhat been a football journeyman whose career was on the brink of ending before it began.
Ibrahim is now playing football again after a near fatal incident at Rugby Park during a Scottish Premiership game between Kilmarnock and Ross County when he was a player of the former.
Just when Nigerians are thinking the country might not see such a wonderful talent rise through the ranks, the Nigerian U17 national team won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2013, making it the fourth time Nigeria will win the title.
Another youngster shone like a comet for the Eaglets in the triumph in UAE. Enter Kelechi Iheanacho.
Iheanacho was the MVP of the tournament and now, he is on the books of Manchester City where he has earned the trust of Manuel Pellegrini.
Iheanacho and Ibrahim are both attacking midfielders and their fans will have a field day debating who is the better of the two and who deserves a starting place in the Super Eagles.
The thought of these two working in tandem behind the strikers in the Super Eagles midfield is mouth-watering.
They would however have to be wary of the threat posed by 2013 AFCON winner with the Super Eagles, Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder, Nosa Igiebor.
The former Real Betis star was in action in the UEFA Champions League 3rd Round qualifiers and his consistency and goals will make it likely for him to be invited by Oliseh.
Igiebor will surely be in action, fitness permitting, this Friday in the season opener against Bnei Sakknin
5. EMMANUEL EMENIKE/IKECHUKWU UCHE vs JUDE IGHALO; OSAZE ODEMWINGIE/BROWN IDEYE vs TAIWO AWONIYI
The jostle for shirts in the Super Eagles attack will be a grudge one and if more than three of the forwards are in form for most of the 2015/2016 season, it will create beautiful headaches for Sunday Oliseh in his selections.
Does a player like Emmanuel Emenike who now struts his game in UAE club Al Ain on loan have a place in Oliseh’s team, some Nigerian football faithful have asked.
However he has been a mainstay in the team and his goals immensely helped the Eagles to win the 2013 African Cup of Nations.
Emenike is expected to be in Oliseh’s plans despite taking the plunge to play in the Middle East but his involvement is expected to be based on form rather than personality.
Ikechukwu Uche currently recuperating from a knee injury swapped CF Villarreal of Spain jersey for that of Copa Libertadores finalists Tigres UANL of Mexico.
Eyebrows were raised when he moved to Mexico but that could be the last big deal for the 31-year-old striker.
Uche missed the 2010 World Cup due to injury and the 2014 World Cup because of his public spat with Stephen Keshi.
With a fit and in-form Uche, perhaps he could be the wily old head for the Super Eagles to come off the bench at the 2017 AFCON and 2018 World Cup, hopefully.
But before then, he could do a job for the Eagles during the qualifiers to both tournaments.
Jude Odion Ighalo helped Watford gain promotion to the English Premier League from the Championship last season and is poised to play tons of games for his club in the 2015/2016 season, having already scored his first EPL goal.
Watford attacker Odion Ighalo became the outright leading scorer in England with 17 goals after finding the net during his side’s 2-2 draw at Everton on the opening weekend of the Premier League season.
Ighalo played 38 games in all competitions last season for his club, 35 of those appearances were in the league, two in the League Cup and one FA Cup game. He scored a total of 20 goals last season, scoring more goals than any player in the four divisions in the calendar year.
Stoke City forward Osaze Odemwingie is one of the most experienced Super Eagles strikers and now fit after a turbulent 2014/15 season.
Odemwingie is expected to play a huge part in the Eagles’ 2017 AFCON qualifying games. The forward will need to churn out good displays weekly for his club and be fit to feature in Oliseh’s team. He was in action in Stoke’s 1-0 defeat suffered against Liverpool on Sunday, August 9.
Brown Ideye too is expected to play a massive role for West Bromwich Albion in the upcoming season.
Ideye almost departed the Midlands after a difficult start to life at the club with the fan base questioning the $10m outlay spent by the club on the one-time Ocean Boys of Yenagoa striker which made him the club’s then record signing although that record is set to be beaten with the acquisition of Salomon Rondon.
His career at West Brom started rather slowly but his performances towards the end of the 2014/2015 season were encouraging. They could be the springboard he needs to launch a return to the Super Eagles under Sunday Oliseh although he was an unused substitute in Monday’s 3-0 loss to Manchester City at the Hawthorns.
Ideye was part of the victorious Super Eagles that won the 2013 AFCON title but has not been part of the team for a long time. Another opportunity now beckons for the skilful striker.
The last name on the strikers’ column is Taiwo Awoniyi. He is one for the future definitely but his feats with the age grade national teams are quite encouraging.
Awoniyi may be young but Oliseh has given ringing endorsement to the youth internationals like him, Kelechi Iheanacho etc. If you are good enough, you are old enough! That is what Oliseh is saying.
Awoniyi has a future in the Super Eagles surely. The boy’s attitude and work ethic are great and aside talent, are qualities needed to become world class sports stars.
The U-23 striker will give the likes of Ighalo, Ideye and Gbolahan Salami a run for their money.