Since Nigeria’s disappointing outing at the 2021 African Cup of Nations in Cameroon, Super Eagles defenders William Troost-Ekong and Ola Aina have not featured for their respective clubs.
Troost-Ekong before his outing at the AFCON had featured in 16 Premier League games, although some of those matches went awry. His performances left very little to savour and there were genuine concerns about his dip in form leading to the AFCON.
The former Udinese defender however silenced many critics with his performance and even showed some improvements in his game with the Super Eagles. It was a grand silencing and one that saw the 28-year old defender stand to prove himself worthy of his status with the Super Eagles.
Aina on his part also had a tournament to remember. If there were doubts about his technical qualities, the 2021 AFCON provided an avenue for the former Chelsea defender to establish himself better in the squad. And he did with aplomb.
He was a joy to watch on the right side of the Super Eagles and often took up the attacking duties of Samuel Chukwueze, who had a subdued outing by his standard. His defending also looked better and more reassuring.
In Nigeria’s game against Tunisia, one of the creative outlets blocked by the Carthage Eagles was Aina’s dashing runs into the opposition’s half. He was an attacking threat for the Super Eagles, but one could argue that his rich form was premised on the regular minutes he got at Torino in the first half of the season.
The confidence he showed at the tournament helped him create glorious chances as he underlined his ability and capacity to perform when all is right.
Aina’s career with the Super Eagles has seen disappointing days too. He missed out on the 2018 World Cup and felt hard done by that decision as it was a period he had started to build a more solid club football career. His return to the fold at the 2019 AFCON told the story of a player who simply never gave up.
While his place is better understood and respected in the national setup now, his biggest advantage at the moment isn’t his form but the lack of commensurate competition.
Ahead of the game against Ghana, the only other recognisable right back in the Super Eagles is Shehu Abdullahi. The Omonia Nicosia defender was greatly trusted by former Super Eagles coach, Gernot Rohr and can be very dependable when the system is conservative. But going by what Eguavoen has shown to desire in terms of style and strategy, Aina is better suited to his more expressive system.
Troost-Ekong has also established base and is one of the most vocal players in the team. He’s the playing captain of the Super Eagles and dropping him, although not impossible, may not be plausible at the moment. He’s shown in the past that he can rise from challenges, but a lack of playing time and absence of competitive minutes is a different ball game entirely. Recent events have shown that they could be a dangerous path to tread.
Aina and Troost-Ekong were good the last time they were seen with the Super Eagles and nostalgia, more than form, has been seen to guide the choices of national coaches. The outcomes of these decisions determine fans’ reaction.
Both players must also be hailed for showing excellent team spirit by arriving early to camp and it’s left to be seen if the three days of training before the first leg against Ghana will be enough for them to gain sharpness and cast their lack of minutes behind. Considering they are regarded as important members of the squad, it’s a lot to chew.