The 28-man list for players that will represent Nigeria at the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations has been released, and there are some notable additions
Orlando Pirates star Olisa Ndah and Huesca midfielder Kelechi Nwakali made the cut for the 28-man squad that will don the colours of Nigeria at the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.
For both players, it is a massive breakthrough in their careers, as both have been peripheral figures for the Super Eagles.
Nwakali has been unable to replicate his Under-17 skills at the senior level, while Ndah just broke onto the Nigerian scene barely two years ago.
Ndah’s consistent solid performances helped Akwa United win the Nigeria Professional Football League last season. With him in defence, the Promise Keepers conceded just 24 goals last season- the least in the league.
His consistent performances in the league earned him his first national call-up when Nigeria’s home-based Super Eagles took on Mexico earlier this year. However, it turned out to be an outing to forget for the 23-year-old as Nigeria was humiliated 4-0
Nevertheless, after a wonderful season with Akwa United, Ndah joined former South African Champions Orlando Pirates in August.
Since joining Pirates, he has cemented his place in the first team. He has featured in 13 of his side’s 18 fixtures this season.
While Ndah might have been selected as an Orlando Pirates player, it would not be out of place to say that he won himself a spot in Eguavoen’s team because of his performance in the NPFL.
Recently, the clamour for the inclusion of NPFL players in national selection has gotten louder, especially because of former Nigeria Coach Gernot Rohr’s perceived apathy towards the talents based at home.
But with players like Ndah, who has proven his quality both home and abroad, it looks like the NPFL can add this to its list of positives.
Meanwhile, Nwakali has been one of the best players for Huesca this season. The 23-year-old has played an integral role for Oscenses Azulgranas as they look to return to the Spanish top-flight.
After struggling to pin down a starting shirt for the last two seasons, Nwakali has now played in 18 of Huesca’s 21 Laliga2 games this season.
His ability to link the midfield and attack effortlessly has made him a renowned figure in Aragon.
However, his compatriot Alex Alex Iwobi who also plays in midfield, has been a figure of ridicule at Everton. The former Arsenal man has been poor in recent months.
Iwobi struggled to start in an injury-ridden Everton side, as 20-year-old prodigy Anthony Gordon is considered more effective by Everton gaffer Rafael Benitez.
Even when on national duty for Nigeria, Iwobi still hasn’t convinced Nigerian fans that he is the ideal number 10 for the Super Eagles.
This is not to discredit the 25-year-old, but Iwobi has not helped Super Eagles fans move on from memories of the retired Austin Okocha.
Most Super Eagles followers still clamour for the “next Okocha”, not necessarily because of his ability to dribble, but because of his ability to link the midfield to the attack effortlessly- something Iwobi has struggled to do consistently.
Moreover, even at 25, no one can comfortably pinpoint Iwobi’s favoured position. He showed brilliance during the 2018 World Cup qualifier when he played from midfield, but he has struggled to replicate that form for the Super Eagles consistently.
However, Nwakali could be that man for Nigeria. The former U-17 star showed glimpses of his ability whilst playing for the Golden Eaglets, and after suffering a lull, it seems like the former Arsenal man has come into his own.
However, the midfield decision still lies in Eguavoen’s hands, and whilst it could be risky to choose form over experience, Nwakali could eventually become a midfield wildcard for Eguavoen.