Later this evening (June 9th), Nigeria will take on the Sierra Leone national team in the opening Group A match of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign.
Twenty-seven of Nigeria’s best players have been in the Super Eagles camp in Abuja, with head coach Jose Peseiro expected to pick his strongest starting lineup to face the Leone Stars.
Despite being ranked 108th on the FIFA world ranking, some 78 spots below Nigeria (30th), Sierra Leone are not to be underrated.
The Leone Stars’ last visit to Nigeria saw them overturn a 4-0 deficit to force a 4-4 draw in Benin, with that point proving crucial in securing their appearance at the last Afcon in Cameroon.
How could Jose Peseiro set up his men to return the Eagles to winning ways against the Stars?
Goalkeeper: Francis Uzoho
After two impressive displays against Mexico and Ecuador, Uzoho should be the early front-runner for the Super Eagles’ number one gloves ahead of Watford shot-stopper Maduka Okoye.
Okoye is presently not in camp, and it would be a surprise to see any of Israeli-based Adebayo Adeleye and Akwa United’s Adewale Adeyinka stand between the goal posts ahead of Uzoho.
Defenders: Awaziem (RB), Troost-Ekong (CB), Ajayi (CB), Bassey (LB)
Coach Peseiro deployed the versatile Chidozie Awaziem on the right side of the defence in the two friendlies against Mexico and Ecuador. He could continue with the ex-Porto man ahead of Ola Aina.
William Troost-Ekong’s mistakes are becoming more frequent, but the Watford centre-back remains one of Nigeria’s best ball-playing defenders at the moment. And it is an attribute that will keep earning him favour with Peseiro.
The return of Kenneth Omeruo and Leon Balogun after missing the United States tour could affect Semi Ajayi’s chances of lining up beside Troost-Ekong. But the West Brom defender rarely put a foot wrong in the US and should keep his spot in the team.
Porto’s Zaidu Sanusi also returns, but his left-back slot has been conquered by Nigeria’s rave-of-the-moment Calvin Bassey.
Bassey was excellent against Mexico and Ecuador and is expected to be the first name on Peseiro’s team list.
Workin’! pic.twitter.com/WcPXWy292J— Alexander Iwobi (@alexiwobi) June 8, 2022
Midfielders: Chukwueze (RW), Etebo (CM), Aribo (CM), Iwobi (LW)
Peseiro has to choose between Villarreal’s Samuel Chukwueze and Watford’s Emmanuel Dennis regarding who starts on the right-wing against Sierra Leone.
Both are talented wingers with an eye for goal, and it could boil down to which of the players is fitter and sharper. Chukwueze may edge it on that front.
The coach’s decision is not any easier to make on the opposite flank, where Moses Simon and Ademola Lookman are jostling for one spot.
Peseiro could overlook both, though, as he may prefer to unleash Alex Iwobi’s playmaking abilities from the left-wing. Especially with Simon not impressing in any of the games in the United States.
Oghenekaro Etebo and Joe Aribo would make for a central midfield pairing that possesses energy, guile, and dynamism, with Aribo also able to swap places with Iwobi at will.
Strikers: Osimhen (CF), Sadiq (SS)
Europa Conference League top goalscorer Cyriel Dessers netted his first goal for Nigeria against Mexico, but his partnership with Terem Moffi did not particularly blossom.
The Genk forward and the Lorient hitman displayed a lot of guts and grits but were guilty of missing several goalscoring chances and half-chances.
And with Napoli’s top nine Victor Osimhen and Almeria’s hotshot Umar Sadiq back in town, Peseiro is expected to unleash a new-look attack.
Sadiq is excellent in linking up play and is, therefore, the perfect supporting striker Peseiro is looking for.
And in partnership with that force of nature called Osimhen, Sierra Leone could return to Freetown with more Super Eagles goals than they can carry.