– by Merit Jay.
With the first FIFA International Window for 2021 just around the corner (22nd – 31st March), two of Nigeria’s most exciting talents in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) have earned their first Super Eagles call up.
Although Nigeria currently occupy top spot in group L, the Super Eagles are yet to cement their participation in next year’s continental showpiece and will need two good results in the space of four days, to book their ticket to Cameroon 2021. But it is not just the prospect of another AFCON appearance that excites Nigerian football faithfuls, especially those who are fans of the NPFL, the inclusion of home-based talent is something that had proved elusive in recent times.
John Noble (Goalkeeper) and Anayo Iwuala (Forward) both of Enyimba FC, have been selected to represent Nigeria in her final qualifying fixtures for the Total AFCON 2021
The Super Eagles take on the Squirrels of Benin Republic and the Crocodiles of Lesotho on 27th March and 30th March respectively.
Akwa United Defender, Olisa Ndah explains why he is excited.
“I’m very happy and I’m glad that at least they recognize our league (NPFL) a bit because they usually look down on us and they’re always like, the Nigerian League (NPFL) players are not good enough and all that. So, I’m very happy for him (Anayo).” the 23-year-old said.
Since his appointment as Head coach of the Nigeria national football team in August 2016, Franco-German tactician Gernot Rohr, has not hidden his assessment on the quality of the NPFL players. To him, they are not good enough for the Super Eagles as the best players are those based in Europe or somewhere else. This, he clearly stated in an interview with ESPN last year.
“The criteria for us, the first criterion is the quality of the players,” he said.
“Everybody knows, not only in Nigeria, that the big players are in Europe or somewhere else in professional league. We cannot find all the time players in the local league who are better than the other ones. That is the fact.” Rohr via ESPN.
One year later and judging by his initial 24-man selection for the March 2021 international window (which had John Noble as the only home-based talent), it is clear that the Super Eagles manager is adamant in his conviction. But in that one-year period a lot has changed in Football, Sports, and the World at large, no thanks (or maybe thanks) to Covid-19.
“Funny enough [that is true], because if there was no covid I’m sure that he (Anayo) would not have been called up [to the national team] due to the players they had already invited. So [in some ways], it’s a blessing to us (NPFL players).” Ndah responded when asked if covid-19 was some sort of blessing in disguise for the NPFL. Anayo Iwuala is the first beneficiary of that “blessing”, as the fleet footed winger was drafted in to replace Sadiq Umar, after Spanish 2nd division side Almeria blocked the participation of the Nigerian forward citing health and safety concerns.
But Olisa Harold Ndah believes that “it is also possible that they (Anayo and Noble) get invited (to the Super Eagles squad) even without the covid-19 [restrictions].“ stating that both players (especially Anayo Iwuala) have what it takes to earn subsequent call ups to the Super Eagles.
“I think he (Anayo) has the qualities, cos he’s a very good player, I’ve played against him several times. He’s quick and good at dribbling. Defensively, he also does his best to cover his tracks. He’s a very good player who has worked so hard to get to where he is now, so I think he’s ready. If given the chance [to play] , he’s ready.” Ndah advocated for his compatriot whose dazzling displays for Enyimba this season has won the hearts of a large percentage of NPFL followers.
Having donned the Green and White of Nigeria himself, albeit at U23 level as part of those selected for the CHAN U23 Eagles in their failed attempt to reach the CHAN 2020 tournament (played in 2021 due to covid), Olisa Ndah knows what it feels like to represent Nigeria and is optimistic of his chances of playing for the Super Eagles soon enough.
“Man, it feels great. It’s an opportunity [of a lifetime].” the ball playing centre-half said.
“We have a lot of great players everywhere, even here in Nigeria, so whenever you’re called up to represent the [National] team, it’s a thing of pride. You just feel fortunate to be there. It’s one of my [biggest] accomplishments [so far], one of my proudest moments.” Ndah explained.
On the possibility of being selected for the Super Eagles, Olisa Ndah insists it is possible, and feels that with the recent call ups for John Noble and Anayo Iwuala, his chance might not be far away from now.
“It’s up to the coach. They know what they want, the kind of players they want, the kind of players they want to work with. I just hope it (the inclusion of Anayo and Noble) opens doors [into the senior national team] for us.” Ndah stated.
“On a personal note, I think it is possible. I think it’s [going to happen] very soon. [I feel] it is closer than I anticipated. I’m working hard, staying focused, and praying [for better days]. I just have to keep doing well and pray that one day I get a chance.”
*At the time of publishing, Abia Warrior’s Adeleke Adekunle, has also been drafted into the Super Eagles squad as a replacement for Kenneth Omeruo, after Spanish outfit CD Leganes blocked the 27-year-old’s involvement with the national team due to covid-19.