By
Okey Onwugbonu

Recently
I read an article by China Acheru titled ‘7 minutes with China:
It’s time to gate crash the World Cup Party’
, and I thought I
should put on something that should depict what our World Cup party
should look like without the gate crashers.

I
honestly think that from the crop of players that executed the World
Cup Qualifiers from the second round tie against Swaziland, (remember
Nigeria drew bye for the first round) to the last match in the group
phase against Algeria in Constantine, only fifteen of them for me at
this moment are certain to be on the plane to Russia.

I
have put into consideration the players form for club and country,
players versatility, what we need in the national team and of course
being a regular in a top club is obviously a huge advantage.

GOALKEEPER(S)
Ikechukwu Ezenwa

1.
Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Enyimba FC) –
The CHAN Eagles skipper for me
is the only goalkeeper certain to be on the plane to Russia. He has
not really had a commanding display for the Eagles and the way he
flaps at crosses has had some fans clutching their chest. But with
some tough games in the CHAN to come this month and some more in the
CAF Champions League with Enyimba, I feel Ezenwa will be ready to man
the post in Russia. Francis Uzoho and Daniel Akpeyi look like the
other choices for the Mundial but their slots are not certain as the
return of Enyeama will spell doom for either of them not to mention
the purported return of Austin Ejide and Dele Ayenugba.

DEFENDERS

2.
William Troost Ekong (Buraspor, Turkey)
– A regular in the
Eagles defense these days forming a lovely partnership with Leon
Balogun a pair that have been christened ‘Oyinbo Wall’ by fans.
Ekong is not a defender in the mold of former Eagles captain Uche
Okechukwu or does he possess the ‘ruggedity’ of Taribo West. Yet
his height, pace, incisive tackles and interception has endeared him
to Nigerians. He was also shortlisted for the CAF player of the year
award and is in the CAF 11 for 2017. A sure banker for Russia.

Leon Balogun
3.
Leon Balogun (Mainz 05 Germany) –
The other half of the ‘Oyinbo
Wall’ should be in Russia if he stays out of injury. For a player
who wore the arm band in the last 2018 World Cup Qualifying game
against Algeria, you should think is certain to make the party.
Nagging injuries has been his bane and Nigerians will be praying that
he avoids injuries heading to the World Cup. Good in the air and
quite rugged, though still suspect when it comes to his pace and if
he is up against skillful players.

4.
Chidozie Awaziem (FC Nantes on loan from FC Porto)
– Awaziem
has been a regular for Claudio Ranieri’s Nantes in the French Ligue
1 and has churned out beautiful performances. The young defender’s
Eagles career got off to a shaky start in the 2019 AFCON qualifier
against South Africa in Uyo deputizing for the injured Leon Balogun.
The Eagles lost that game 2-0 and some fans attributed the loss to
coach Gernot Rohr’s preference for Awaziem instead of a more
experienced Kenneth Omeruo. Awaziem had another chance to impress his
doubters and he took it with both arms when he gave an outstanding
performance in the 4-2 friendly win against Argentina in Russia. He
seems to have gained Rohr’s trust so I’ll put him on the plane to
Russia either to deputize for the ‘Oyinbo Wall’ or as one of the
central defenders if Rohr chooses a 3-5-2 formation.

Elderson Echiejile
5.
Elderson Echeijile (Sivaspor, Turkey on Loan from Monaco) –

Eagles left back at the last World Cup in Brazil has had age and loss
of form affect his career. Little wonder he was sent on loan to
Turkey from French Champions Monaco. For want of a better player with
the needed experience I think Echeijile will make it to Russia
although fans are highly concerned with his lack of pace.

6.
Shehu Abdulahi (Anorthosis Famagusta, Cyprus) –
The player at
the center of the fiasco that bedeviled Nigerian football after FIFA
fined the Nigerian Football Federation for fielding him in a dead
rubber World Cup qualifier against Algeria. He happens to be a
mainstay in the Eagles after making the right fullback position his
own with eye catching performances one of such earning him the man of
the match award in the game against Zambia that sealed qualification
to Russia.

The
likes of Ola Aina, Tyronne Egbeuhi, Edoho and Kenneth Omeruo and the
gate crashers will have to slog it out for the remaining defensive
spots.

MIDFIELDERS

John Mikel Obi
7.
Mikel Obi (Tianjin TEDA, China) –
Captain fantastic is
obviously one the first names on the list of Russia bound players.
With 82 caps for the National team his experience and leadership is
something the Eagles will need in Russia. Ask Sampson Siasia and
Dream Team 6 players. Rohr’s Eagles have lacked cohesion whenever
skippo is not available and his hold up play and distribution is
second to none in the team. He must be in Russia.

8.
Ogenyi Onazi (Trabzonpor, Turkey) –
One of the few really
experienced players in the Eagles, Onazi place on the plane to Russia
is certain. A regular with the club and the Super Eagles since he
made his debut in 2013. Some pundits feel his place in the Eagles
starting eleven is threatened with the recent performance of John Ogu
but certainly not his place on the plane.

9.
Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England) –
Wilfred Ndidi has been
a super regular for his club Leicester City turning up top
performances week in week out earning accolades from football pundits
the world over. The Eagles certainly do not have someone at his level
in his position. A certainty for Russia.

John Ogu
10.
John Ogu ( Hapoel Ben Sheva) –
Since making
his debut on March 4, 2013 in a 2014 World Cup qualifier, coming on
as an 89th minute substitute for Victor Moses in a 1-1 draw against
Kenya. John Ogu has been in an out of the Eagles team, making the
list for the Confederation cup in 2013 but missing out of the World
Cup the next year. With just 16 caps and 2 goals in the Eagles
colours, Ogu’s man marking abilities will come in handy as a backup
for the regular midfielders. Ogu I feel has a better chance than
Mikel Agu and Oghenekaro Etebo who disappointed the last time out.

FORWARDS

11.
Victor Moses (Chelsea, England) –
You can’t
be a regular for Chelsea in England and don’t make it to the World
Cup for Nigeria. Moses has been the Eagles best performer in recent
times and his ability to track back and defend is an added advantage
to the team. Playing wing back for Chelsea has remarkably improved
his game and who says Rohr cannot use him in that position at the
World Cup.

12.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, England) –
Many say being
Jay Jay Okocha’s nephew has helped his course in the national team,
but you can’t be a first team player for the Gunners and not be
part of a Nigerian team begging for World class talents. Iwobi’s
pace and skill added to his versatility sure gives him an edge and he
would be in Russia, of course he scored the goal to sealed
qualification.

Kelechi Iheanacho
13.
Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England) –
Touted as the golden boy of Nigerian football following his exploits
at the U 17 World Cup at The United Arab Emirates 2013 where the
Golden Eaglets won gold and Kelechi was voted player of the
tournament; and his signing for Manchester City. The coming of Pep
Guardiola limited his first team appearance at the Etihad and a move
to former champions Leicester has failed to improve his playing time.
He may have lost his starting place in the Eagles but his goal
scoring exploits in the team cannot be over looked.

14.
Moses Simon (KAA Gent, Belgium) –
The
skillful left winger is a joy to behold in a one on one situation. A
regular at Gent and the Eagles also good in dead ball situation.
Eagles spot on the left wing will be a straight fight between him and
Iwobi with Victor Moses certain to get the nod for the right wing.

15.
Odion Ighalo (Chanchun Yatai, China)
Odion
Ighalo scored himself backed to reckoning with the Eagles after his
goals in China and Eagles failure to beat South Africa in Uyo led to
Gernot Rohr recalling him. The big striker is comfortable with both
feet and can also hold up play. With Henry Onyekwuru’s injury
likely to rule him out, Kayode Olarenwaju, Ahmed Musa, Anthony
Nwaekame, Anthony Ujah, Brown Ideye, Isacc Success and Obafemi
Martins should jostle for the remaining slots.

Barring
injuries and loss of form these fifteen for me are certain to be in
Russia, gate crashers should take up three to five spots while other
non-starters will complete the world cup party.

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