By
Okey Onwugbonu                                                                                                         
Twenty-three
gladiators will attempt to win the biggest prize in global football for the
most populous black nation – Nigeria when the World Cup gets underway in
Putin’s country from Thursday June 14.                                                                                                                                           After a series of unimpressive pre World Cup
friendly games, Super Eagles gaffer Gernot Rohr has assured Nigerians that the
team will get into shape for the Mundial, stating that results that will truly
matter are the ones in Russia.                                                                                                
On
the Super Eagles World Cup bound list we find no galatico but rather a bunch of young green talents that will rally
around the leadership and inspiration of captain Mikel Obi.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Whether these Eagles can fulfill the promise
of bringing back the trophy promised Mr. President by their captain is a story
for another day and so is the issue of how far the Eagles can fly.                                                                                                                                         
The
focal point of this 2 part piece is to analyze what each of the 23 players on
the list bring to the team. Let us begin from the Goalkeepers and defenders.                                       
Ikechukwu Ezenwa                                                                                                                          
The
only home based player in the team should have been a certain number one for
the Eagles but for injury and the recent exploits of Francis Uzoho.                                                                                                                                          Ezenwa exudes confidence in his demeanor while
in goal but flaps at crosses, an act that causes increased heart beat for fans.
An injury during the semi-final of the Championship for African Nation (CHAN) last
year slowed down his rapid rise after turning out above average performances in
the double header World Cup qualifiers against Cameroun, conceding only from
the spot.                                                                                                                                                                                              Ezenwa who plays his club football with
Enyimba would serve as adequate back up to Rohr’s anointed one Francis Uzoho.                                                                                                      
Daniel Akpeyi                                                                                                                                     
Chippa
United of South Africa’s shot stopper is the most experienced among the
goalkeepers in the squad.                                                                                                                                           He has 6 caps for the Eagles but has a fat
chance of adding to his caps at the Mundial after a horrendous show against
Argentina in a friendly last November in Russia.                                                                                                                                          His first call up to the Nigerian team was as
an unused substitute in a 2-2 friendly in May 2014 against Scotland but it was
until the 1-0 loss to Egypt in a 2017 Nations Cup qualifier that he won his
first cap. If he is to get back to reckoning he must improve on his composure.                                                                                                                                 
Francis Uzoho                                                                                                                     

19 year old Francis Uzoho

            

Francis
Odinaka Uzoho struck gold when Daniel Akpeyi’s undoing became the catalyst that
took him from obscurity to Eagles number one.                                                                                       Akpeyi’s goof in the first half in that
friendly against Argentina and a combination of good fortune when Uzoho came up
in the second half led to the Eagles coming down from 2-0 to win 4-2 and since
then the 19 year old has not looked back.                                                                                                                                                                                                              Standing quite tall at 6ft5, he fits the bill
of a towering goalkeeper with sharp reflexes and good handling. Still quite
young but being in goal in top games against Poland, Serbia, Congo DR, England and
Czech Republic would certainly come in handy before the Eagles file out against
Croatia on June 16.                                                                                     
DEFENDERS
William Troost-Ekong                                                                                                                                
Ekong
has grown to be a main stay in the Eagles defence and is improving after each
game.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         The Dutch- born former Tottenham Hotspur and
Holland youth team player who laces his boots for Bursaspor in Turkey has
played every minute for the Eagles in their last 13 games.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   As one of the first names on Rohr’s team list
whatever the formation the Franco-German chooses, Nigerians would hope that he
stays fit and plays at his optimum if the Eagles are to make an impact in
Russia.                                                                                                                                                                                                    
Leon Balogun                                                                                                                                    
Balogun
who would play in the English Premiership next season with Brighton and Hove
Albion is one of the leaders on the pitch for the Eagles who has formed a
lovely defensive pairing with William Troost-Ekong.                                                                                                                                             Balogun has a history with nagging injuries missing
out of some key games due to injury, the reason why he has a paltry 17 caps since
his debut under late Stephen Keshi in March 2014.                                                                                                                                                                                                             Despite displaying a calm demeanour, Balogun
is rugged on the pitch, a good team player and quite good in the air, he is
also good at initiating attacks from his defensive role. He should be a regular
starter in Russia if he stays injury free.                                 
Kenneth Omeruo                                                                                                                   
One
of the few players in the team with World Cup experience, Omeruo played every
minute as Nigeria reached the second round of the World Cup in Brazil.                                                                                                                                       The versatile defender, comfortable at right
back or center back has been part of the team since the Nations Cup in 2013,
little wonder he has won 34 caps despite being only 24 years old. Injuries and
loss of form has seen him drop down the pecking order with Balogun and Ekong
ahead of him.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The Kisimpasa of Turkey defender on loan from
English side Chelsea will be waiting on the wings to take his chance if called
up by coach Rohr.                                                
Chidozie Awaziem                                                                                                                       
Awaziem
has always beeen called up to the Eagles team since his first call up – a 1-1
draw against Senegal last year. Though an unused substitute in that game, the
Nantes of France defender has had 10 other call ups and took to the field 4
times: versus Togo, South Africa, Argentina and Serbia. Still one for the
future but capable of giving Omeruo and most recently John Ogu a run for their
money as a third central defender if Rohr opts for 3 center backs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Still only 21, Awaziem would grab an
opportunity to feature at the World Cup with both hands as it would do his
career a lot of good and maybe get him a more prestigious club away from his
parent club Porto B in Portugal.                                                               
Elderson
Echiejile                                                                                                                         
The
most experienced defender and one of the most experienced players in the team
Elderson Echiejile has his best years behind him.                                                                                                                                        Many would have preferred a much younger Ola
Aina in his stead but Echiejile’s experience may just come in handy in a team
that has the youngest squad heading to the Mundial.                                                                                                                                                                                                               Echiejile has amassed 55 caps, 3 goals and an
assist for the Eagles and has been part of the team since 2010 playing in the
World Cup in South Africa.                                                                                                                                                                            He missed the party to Brazil through
injury, though.                                                                  
Bryan Idowu                                                                                                                       

Bryan Idowu

            

The
Russian born defender announced himself to the national team with a goal in his
debut in the 4-2 friendly win against Argentina.                                                          He could have had his debut earlier if not for
the restrictions in the Russian League over dual nationalities.                                                                                                                                                   Comfortable as a left or right back, Idowu is
expected to star as a left back at the Mundial for the Eagles. A regular for
his club Amkar Perm in Russia, Idowu who has just 4 caps is fast, skillful and
a good tackler, but most improve on his final pass in the final third.                                                                                                                                       
Shehu Abdullahi                                                                                                                              
Abdullahi
should have his work cut out for a starting berth at the World Cup with the
recent performances of Tyronne Ebuehi.                                                                                                                                             Abdullahi had been Eagles dependable right
back even winning Man of the Match in the game against Zambia, a game that
qualified Nigeria for the World Cup.                                                                                                                                                        He is solid defensively and is not afraid of joining
the attack which has resulted in an assist in his 20 appearances for the
Eagles. He is a regular for Bursaspor in the Turkish Super League.                                                                                                                     
Tyronne Ebuehi                                                                                                                              
Tyrone
Ebuehi made his debut for the Eagles in the friendly game against Togo in June
2017 and has gone on to play in 5 other games.                                                                                                                                            He is seen as a deputy to Abdullahi but recent
solid performances especially against Congo DR, England and Czech Republic may
see him leapfrog Shehu.                                                                                                                                        His exploits in the Dutch Eredevisie for ADO
Den Haag where he played 29 times in the outgone season saw him bag a 5 year
deal with Portuguese top side Benfica.                                                                                                                                 Eagles’ fans would be comfortable with him as
right back but he would need to improve on his crosses.                                                                                                                
                                                                         To be continued

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