Really, why is the Hoffenheim defender Kevin Akpoguma not in the Nigeria squad to face the Black Stars of Ghana? I watched him play 77 minutes against a rejuvenated Hertha Berlin inside the majestic Olympic Stadium in Berlin on Saturday afternoon.
Hertha’s new Scottish assistant coach Mark Fotheringham had a lot to prove in the absence of Felix Magath due to Covid-19 in the game played in front of 25,000 fans. The atmosphere was filled with expectations as the fans hoped that their illustrious team would avoid relegation.
26-year-old Akpoguma started on the left side of a three-man defensive line deployed by Sebastian Hoeneß. Then the formation shifted to a 4-4-2 where he was one of the two central defenders alongside Kevin Vogt.
And throughout the game his quality was never in doubt.
His range of passing and vision was good, mid-range passes to the middle and long-range passes above the Hertha defense. The confidence with which he controlled the back line alongside Vogt was impressive in the first half.
He joined the attack for corner kicks, giving the Hertha defense something extra to think about every time he went forward.
He excelled in two-on-two situations, keeping an eye on his attackers while running with his back to goal.
However, Hoffenheim conceded the first goal from a corner kick that was headed home by Niklas Stark. Akpoguma’s jump was not enough to stop the ball from reaching the midfielder who nodded into the net minutes before half time.
He won out in strength battles against Hertha players and eventually earned a yellow card for a tackle that I think was hardly deserving of a booking.
After Hertha’s second goal by Ishak Belfodil, Akpoguma was deployed to the wings to support the attack. His runs were good and it provided some worry for the Hertha defenders. He was subbed off in the 77th minute after Hoffenheim had conceded their third goal through Lucas Toussart.
His diversity of skills mean he can play in several positions for the Super Eagles. Under former coach Gernot Rohr, Akpoguma was deployed on the left side of a four-man defense when he started in the friendly game against Tunisia and the AFCON qualifier against Sierra Leone.
But injuries limited his participation with the Eagles under the German who brought him into the national team after he represented Germany as a youth player.
After being excluded from the Africa Cup of Nations squad in Cameroon, Akpoguma has not been called up for the double-header against Ghana in the World Cup Qualifying play-offs.
But he deserves a chance to play for the Super Eagles again as his work rate shows.
Some of Nigeria’s defenders have not seen regular action in the last few weeks. William Ekong was an unused substitute during Watford’s 2-1 win away at Southampton.
The postponement of their game this weekend against Everton means that Ekong will arrive in camp without having played a top game in two weeks.
Things are not so different for his partner at the AFCON, Kenneth Omeruo, who has been out due to injury and has not played a competitive game since February 11 when he picked up an injury. He has only started to work out with his team this week.
Nigeria cannot afford to be without its fittest defenders when they take on Ghana in these World Cup qualifiers. We have already been handicapped by the recent injury to Wilfred Ndidi, one of our best defensive midfielders.
We should have invited Akpoguma. He is fit and healthy and has scored twice already in the Bundesliga this season.