Nigeria’s Super Eagles face a decisive match against Sierra Leone on Sunday, June 18, in Monrovia, with a win being the ticket to secure a place in next year’s Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast.
Head coach Jose Peseiro has invited eight defenders for this crucial tie, raising the question of which among them should earn a spot in the starting lineup against the Leone Stars.
Right full-back – Bright Osayi-Samuel vs Kevin Akpoguma
Up first is the right-back position, where the decision comes down to Bright Osayi-Samuel and Kevin Akpoguma.
Akpoguma played a crucial role in Hoffenheim’s Bundesliga survival this season but has yet to find his best form in the national team.
Conversely, Osayi-Samuel has consistently showcased his skills since making his international debut against Portugal in November.
He was one of Nigeria’s standout performers in the must-win clash against Guinea-Bissau in their previous outing. He continues to impress, having recently helped Fenerbahce win the Turkish Cup.
It is only fair that Osayi-Samuel receives the starting opportunity.
Starter: Bright Osayi-Samuel
Right Centre-back – William Troost-Ekong vs. Kenneth Omeruo
Moving to the right center-back position, the choice presents William Troost-Ekong and Kenneth Omeruo.
Vice-captain Troost-Ekong holds a slight advantage, with Peseiro placing considerable trust in the former Watford man.
However, Troost-Ekong has only completed 90 minutes in one of his last six appearances for Salernitana. In contrast, Omeruo featured in every minute of Leganes’ last two league games, demonstrating his consistency.
Despite Troost-Ekong’s recent limited playing time, he will likely be favoured for the starting role.
Starter: William Troost-Ekong
Left Centre-back – Semi Ajayi vs Calvin Bassey
The left center-back position features Semi Ajayi and Calvin Bassey as the contenders.
Ajayi participated in 22 games for West Brom in the Championship this season, making an average of one tackle, 1.1 interceptions, 2.1 clearances, and 0.3 blocks per 90 minutes. He also managed to score two league goals.
However, Bassey’s numbers are more impressive, having played 25 Eredivisie games for Ajax, scoring once, assisting three times, and featuring in the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League.
Although Bassey faced some time on the substitute bench towards the end of the campaign, his versatility as a right-back and Peseiro’s previous experiment with him at center-back against Sao Tome and Principe may tempt the coach to continue with Bassey in the heart of the defence.
Therefore, Calvin Bassey is likely to be the chosen starter.
Starter: Calvin Bassey
Left full-back: Chidiebube Duru vs. Zaidu Sanusi
In the left-back position, the competition is between Chidiebube Duru and Zaidu Sanusi.
Duru, a consistent performer for Rivers United on the local scene, tasted victory by winning the NPFL title last season and was close to repeating the feat this month.
However, he remains in the shadow of Porto’s Zaidu Sanusi, who concluded another successful year in Portugal by lifting the League Cup. Given Sanusi’s positive performances, he is expected to be given the starting nod.
Starter: Zaidu Sanusi
Invited Super Eagles defenders vs. Sierra Leone
William Ekong (Watford FC, England)
Calvin Bassey (Ajax FC, The Netherlands)
Kevin Akpoguma (TSG Hoffenheim, Germany)
Chidiebube Duru (Rivers United, Nigeria)
Oluwasemilogo Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion, England)
Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain)
Zaidu Sanusi (FC Porto, Portugal)
Bright Osayi-Samuel (Fenerbahce FC, Turkey)