After two disappointing draws against Sierra Leone in November, Nigeria need at least a point to guarantee a qualification ticket to Cameroon 2022, and Gernot Rohr would be smart to put together the best the country has to offer
Nigeria face the Benin Republic and Lesotho on March 27 and 31st, respectively.
A point will be enough to secure a spot for the 2013 Afcon champions in the next edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, and that would be the minimum target for head coach Gernot Rohr when he draws up the list of players to invite for the engagements.
A large percentage of Super Eagles stars who made the team in November should be expected back, but a few chops and new invitees could make an exciting list.
There should be a pleasant return for APOEL Nicosia’s Francis Uzoho, who suffered an injury when Nigeria battled Brazil to a 1-1 draw in October 2019 and has not worn the green-white kit since.
However, the 22-year-old shot-stopper will still have to play second fiddle to Maduka Okoye after Rohr named the Sparta Rotterdam’s goalkeeper as the national team’s present number one.
Kaizer Chiefs’ Daniel Akpeyi or the highly-rated Mathew Yakubu should make the top three, with Rohr not fancying Ikechukwu Ezenwa or any other NPFL goalies.
There is not much to chop and change in this department for Rohr. The German gaffer will be pleased to call on his regular centrebacks: Watford’s William Troost-Ekong, Rangers’ Leon Balogun, and West Brom’s Semi Ajayi, and Boavista’s Chidozie Awaziem.
Kevin Akpoguma made his international debut last year, but the Hoffenheim man has been injured for a few weeks now, and Rohr may be shorn of his versatility.
But he won’t be missed as Kenneth Omeruo should return to the national fold after a brilliant spell for Leganes, with the Cucumber Growers pushing hard for La Liga promotion.
The fullback slots would likely be filled by Fulham’s Ola Aina, Paderborn’s Jamilu Collins, Twente’s Tyronne Ebuehi, and Porto’s Zaidu Sanusi.
Wilfred Ndidi should be back to the national fold after the Leicester City ace missed the games against the Leone Stars through injury.
The Foxes midfielder will add steel and reliability to the Super Eagles’ midfield, ably supported by Midtjylland’s Frank Onyeka and Galatasaray’s Oghenekaro Etebo.
Rangers Joe Aribo, Everton’s Alex Iwobi, and Bordeaux’s Samuel Kalu will be tasked with the creative and playmaking duties.
Rohr could be tempted to name any of Kelechi Nwakali, Ramon Azeez, or Hartberg’s Samson Tijani, but none would merit the call-up based on their club performances in recent weeks.
This is where Rohr is likely going to make significant changes.
Victor Osimhen has had his troubles in his first season in Italy, and after cupping another injury lately, it would be a surprise to see the Napoli striker make Rohr’s squad.
Four months after saying his goodbyes to Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr, Super Eagles captain Ahmed Musa is still without a club. Musa could not seal a move to West Brom recently, and it may cost him a spot on the upcoming team list.
Emmanuel Bonaventure Dennis and Chidera Ejuke were part of the squad that battled Sierra Leone in November, but the two attackers have fallen a bit behind at club level, and others are primed to take their place.
Among the newcomers who could take their spots are Lorient’s Terem Moffi and Union Berlin’s Taiwo Awoniyi.
Former Kortrijk striker Moffi has been spectacular for Lorient in the French top flight, banging in the goals that have helped the struggling side out of relegation troubles.
Awoniyi is enjoying a fabulous time in the German Bundesliga as well, but an injury he sustained recently could rob him of the chance to make a dream debut if he doesn’t recover in time.
Leicester City’s Kelechi Iheanacho is often Rohr’s favoured alternative to Osimhen, and he should be on the list despite his poor stat in the Premier League this term.
Samuel Chukwueze’s recovery from an injury that required surgery is going according to plan, and he should make the squad if Villarreal release him.
Moses Simon’s struggles with Nantes in Ligue 1 this campaign is well documented, but Rohr knows the damage the tricky winger can cause opposing defences on his day.
Paul Onuachu is Nigeria’s most prolific number nine in Europe. His incredible goal-scoring record continues to guarantee him a spot on Rohr’s list despite the German’s preference for others.
Umar Sadiq may have merited a call-up on the back of his prolific form in front of goal in the Segunda Division for Almeria.
At the same time, it would not shock many if Rohr continues to ignore Nigeria’s biggest star in Turkey, Anthony Nwakaeme.
The German coach will not overlook the consistently impressive performances of Anderlecht’s Paul Mukairu and Hatayspor’s Babajide David Akintola forever. Still, this month’s qualifiers may come too soon for the duo.
Nigeria travel to Porto Novo to trade tackles with Benin Republic on March 27 before taking on Lesotho four days later in Lagos.
Gernot Rohr’s Predicted 23-Man Squad For The Afcon Qualifiers