In about three weeks, the focus of Nigerian football fans and other Africans will be on the biggest event to come out of Africa- the Africa Cup of Nations.
The competition has been in place since 1957, with the 33rd edition kicking off in Cameroon on January 9.
The Super Eagles of Nigeria will be gunning for a fourth title when the show kicks off, having won the trophy in 1980, 1994 and 2013.
Nigeria will enter into the tournament as one of the favourites. Still, Nigerian fans are not so confident in the team’s chances, considering what has happened in the last few days.
With just a month before the tournament, the three-time African champions sacked Gernot Rohr as their coach and brought in Austin Eguavoen as interim boss.
This makes Eguavoen’s work more difficult, but he is not a stranger to this situation, having served in the role on two different occasions.
Eguavoen’s first job will be to name the squad for the party in Cameroon. The former Super Eagles star has already informed Soccernet that he would select from the provisional list Rohr submitted to CAF, although there could be some new additions.
With this information, Soccernet predicts the squad Eguavoen is likely to name for the party in Cameroon.
NB: It is important to note that countries can name up to 28 players instead of the usual 23. CAF has allowed this to help teams have a replacement should there be a case of coronavirus in their squad.
With this in mind, we will name the first 23 players before adding the other five.
Maduka Okoye(GK): Okoye was Rohr’s number one, which is unlikely to change under Eguavoen. He recently returned to action after missing Sparta Rotterdam’s last two league games due to a shoulder injury.
Barring any long-term injury, Okoye will be on the plane to Cameroon, which will be his first major international tournament after making his debut in November 2019.
Daniel Akpeyi (GK): Akpeyi was Nigeria’s goalkeeper at the 2019 AFCON, and he looks set to be part of the squad again, although he is unlikely to stay in goal this time.
Francis Uzoho (GK): Like Akpeyi, Uzoho was also part of the squad that went to the 2019 edition, staying in goal for the third-place match against Tunisia.
Uzoho also has the experience of playing on the biggest stage as he was Nigeria’s goalkeeper at the 2018 World Cup.
Leon Balogun (CB): Balogun has criticised the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), and he is one of Rohr’s favourites.
Still, he should be in the squad, given he is one of the most experienced players in the team and has been a mainstay in Nigeria’s defence for over five years.
Balogun is currently injured, though, and has not played for Rangers since November 21.
William Troost-Ekong (CB): Ekong is the team’s vice-captain and has been Balogun’s partner in the heart of the Super Eagles defence.
But the 28-year-old has come under criticism in recent weeks for his poor performances for Watford. There are even suggestions that the ‘oyinbo wall’ has outlived its stay in the team, and a change is needed.
But irrespective of fans’ opinion, Ekong will be on the plane to Cameroon.
Kenneth Omeruo (CB): Omeruo is another experienced player in the squad and has represented Nigeria in their last two major tournaments.
He may not have played for the team a lot in recent games, but his experience means he will be in the squad.
Chidozie Awaziem (CB/RB): Awaziem is another player with tournament experience. But unlike Omeruo, Awaziem played regularly for the team this year, especially in a three-man defence.
He will definitely be a key player in Eguavoen’s squad.
Ola Aina (RB/LB): Aina’s ability to play as a left-back and right-back guarantee his spot in the squad. And his experience of playing in an AFCON gives him an advantage too.
Who can forget his brilliant assist for Odion Ighalo in Nigeria’s opening game at the 2019 AFCON?
Zaidu Sanusi (LB): Sanusi is one of the new faces in the squad after making his debut last year. The 23-year-old is expected to battle Jamilu Collins for the starting role at left-back.
Jamilu Collins (LB): Collins has been in the squad longer than Sanusi, but his performances have always divided opinions.
Nonetheless, he is likely to be included in the squad.
Abdullahi Shehu (RB/DM): Shehu is not a fan favourite, but his versatility means he is undroppable. The 28-year-old can play as a right-back and defensive midfielder, which makes him an important team player.
Wilfred Ndidi (DM): Ndidi does not only have his spot secured, but he is also the first name in the starting lineup.
The Leicester City midfielder has been ever-present in the Super Eagles squad and will only miss the competition if he suffers an injury.
Joe Aribo (CM): Aribo is another player whose place is secured, but Nigerians will hope he can bring his club form into the tournament.
The 25-year-old’s performance for Nigeria this year was mixed, but he has been brilliant for Rangers, especially under Giovanni van Bronkhorst.
Frank Onyeka (DM): The Brentford midfielder only made his debut last year, but he is now a regular, albeit not as a starter.
Onyeka should be in the squad, although he is unlikely to start ahead of Ndidi.
Alex Iwobi (AM): It has not been the best of seasons for Iwobi at Goodison Park, but given he is one of the two attacking midfielders in the squad, his place is secured.
The Everton man will carry the creativity burden of the team in Cameroon.
Kelechi Iheanacho (AM/SS): Iheanacho has not enjoyed enough game time at Leicester City this season, but it will not affect his chances of making the squad.
Although he is only 25, the former Manchester City man is one of the senior players in the team. It would be interesting to see the role he occupies under Eguavoen, though.
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers prefers playing him up front with another striker, but it remains to be seen if Eguavoen will use him in the same role.
Victor Osimhen (ST): His participation is in doubt as he is currently out with a facial injury. But if he regains fitness before the start of the competition, he will be on the plane.
Nigeria need a fully-fit Osimhen to stand a chance of winning a fourth African title.
Emmanuel Dennis (ST): Dennis would not have made the squad if AFCON had taken place this year as scheduled.
But while he has only three caps and has not played for Nigeria since November 2020, it would be hard to leave him out, considering his form in the Premier League.
The 24-year-old has scored seven times and registered five assists in 15 league games for Watford. It is difficult to drop a player in such form.
Samuel Chukwueze (RW): Chukwueze’s pace and trickery will be needed in the team. He is yet to hit full gear this season as he only just returned from a six-month layoff.
But he has already shown glimpses of what he is capable of with Villarreal, which is good news for Eguavoen.
Chidera Ejuke (LW): Ejuke is a fan-favourite because of his dribbling skill. Although he tends to overdo it sometimes, he is one of the talented players in the Super Eagles squad.
Moses Simon (LW): Simon is Rohr’s favourite, and he is one of the regulars in the team. Although his performances divide opinions, only an injury can stop him from going to Cameroon.
Ahmed Musa (ST): He may not play much, but Musa’s spot in the squad is secured.
Odion Ighalo (ST): Ighalo’s name on the list may come as a surprise, considering he retired after the 2019 AFCON.
But he came out of retirement to play for the team during the last international break. He looks set to continue in Cameroon, especially with Paul Onuachu likely to miss the tournament due to an injury.
Taiwo Awoniyi (ST): Awoniyi will feel he has not been treated fairly, considering the season he is having with Union Berlin.
However, he is likely to be among the additional players, although he may not get to play a lot.
Calvin Bassey (DF) Bassey is yet to make his debut, but he has received a call-up once. His form for Rangers and his versatility could see him earn a spot in the squad.
Kelechi Nwakali (AM): The midfield, especially the attacking area, is the Super Eagles biggest worry. It is why there have been rumours that Huesca midfielder Nwakali would be handed a call-up.
Nwakali showed his quality as an attacking midfielder at the 2015 U17 World Cup with the Golden Eaglets, but U17 football is different from the senior-level game.
However, he has delivered some impressive performances for Huesca this season.
Tom Dele-Bashiru (CM): It is really unlikely Dele-Bashiru gets a call-up, even though he could be an option in the midfield.
However, he played under Paul Aigbogun, who is Eguavoen’s assistant, at the U20 World Cup in Poland. This makes him a wild card option, although it is very unlikely he gets an invitation.
Other possible names