|pic courtesy soccerpress.net|
South Africa has always been a fertile hunting ground for Nigeria, and come January, the Super Eagles of Nigeria will attempt to add to Nigeria's laurels when they storm Mzansi to participate in the biennial Chan tournament.
Nigeria will be making her debut in the tournament and is grouped alongside Mozambique, Mali and hosts South Africa in Group D.
Stephen Keshi became a national hero when he lead the Super Eagles to claim Nigeria's third continental crown with a hard fought 1-0 win over Burkina Faso at the FNB Stadium on February 10, this time he is taking a relatively unknown crop of players who he hopes can add more positive vibes to his growing reputation.
Nigeria qualified for the 2014 Chan tournament by edging out Ivory Coast 4-3 on aggregate to book a place in the tournament for the first time but before even the tournament gets underway, the 'big boss' has already warned Nigerians to manage their expectations.
This cant be further than the truth because during Nigeria's World Cup qualifying game against Malawi, I put the question to him as regards if he has a team because the core of the home based squad had already disintegrated.
|pic courtesy 9jafooty|
Keshi, in his usual soft demeanor, fired back at me and insisted he didn't have a team, which translated to him, alongside the team are starting from the scratch. This isn't far from the truth because players like reliable defender Godfrey Oboabona had left Sunshine Stars to join Caykur Rizespor in Turkey, while Juwon Oshinawa, Dele Olorundare, Henry Uche, Gomo Onduku, Chibuzor Okonkwo , Kalu Uche and a host of others aslo jumped ship.
Again, there are no guarantees that the likes of Sunday Mba, who i might regard as the poster boy of the current home based side, Azubuike Egwuekwe and Solomon Kwambe might be around by January as foreign clubs are already snooping around to take them on as soon as the winter transfer window opens.
|pic courtesy Bakare Idowu ( @rabark)|
This leaves Stephen Keshi in a quagmire, as he continues to build a team capable of holding their own in South Africa come January. The task is an enormous one and one will hope he gets it right and enhance his reputation with a commendable outing.
Thirty players were called into camp when camping resumed in the first week of December, and already Keshi has started to chop and change his squad as Mohammed Jiya, Reuben Ogbonnaya, Ezekiel Mba, Danladi Isah and Chibuzor Madu have been shown the exit door.
Relatively unknown Plateau United starlet Eric Kwame has been handed a shock call up after impressing the gaffer during the Eagles friendly with Plateau United as well as new Taraba United safe hands Ibrahim Pius as Keshi continues to experiment.
CHOP AND MIX
As an ardent follower of the league, there are certain players that this writer feels would have been given at least a chance during resident camping to prove their mettle subject to being picked for the final squad.
Enyimba's Femi Thomas and Theophilus Afelokhai of Kano Pillars are two goalkeepers who have been consistent on the domestic scene for some time now and surely deserve a call up.
Thomas, who was part of the Flying Eagle silver medal wining team to the 2005 Africa Youth Championship in Congo was colossal as Enyimba won the Federations Cup and narrowly missed the league title, while Afelokhai, a former U23 international was the man in the middle as Kano Pillars won back to back league titles.
|pic courtesy ShengolPix|
Surely, one would be tempted to think they would at leats made training camp, and are already experienced on the continental stage too. Daniel Akpeyi, Chigozie Agbim and the youngster Dele Alampasu are all good goalkeepers in their rights, but having the duo would have spiced up competition in camp and giving the fact that first choice goalkeeper Agbim hasn't played competitive league football this past season, this would have been a wake up call for the Warri Wolves man.
It will also be worth mentioning that Chinedu Udoji, Markson Ojobo, Ike ThankGod and Stephen Eze who are arguably the best centre backs in the country, didn't make the cut as well as marauding left back Uwa Uwadiegwu and the experienced Mutiu Adegoke , who comes with bags of experience.
The midfield looks promising with the effervescent Kano Pillars lynch pin Rabiu Ali, hardworking Ugonna Uzochukwu of Rangers International and Christian Pyagbara of Sharks of Port-Harcourt whom I tip be one of the stars of the tournament.
Ejike Uzoenyi, who spent time at Rennes in Ligue 1 will bring his experience to bear to help the young lads int he midfield, but the likes of Lordson Ichull, Sunday Chinedu and youngster Kingsley Sokari would have given Keshi more ammunition to experiment with given their superlative displays in the recently concluded season.
The attack is replete with options for the 'Big Boss' as he has big striker Gambo Mohammed, Rangers International's Christian Obiozor who impressed me a lot during the recent Jordan friendly in Amman.
His hold up play and first touch is really impressive for someone his size.
Oghenekaro Etebo, who was a revelation last season has a chance to show what he can do. The Warri Wolves man was the only striker to hit two hat-trick last season which was also his debut int he top flight.
He comes with pace and tenacity and should prove a handful for defenders if he makes the final cut.
Mfon Udoh, who wasn't in the initial list called up to camp has been handed a call up and a chance to show his 14 goals in the league was no fluke as Keshi has decided against retaining league leading scorer from last season Victor Namo.
Ifeanyi Edeh of Rangers International Taiwo Awoniyi, of the Imperial Academy in Ilorin, Gbolaham Salami of Shooting Stars are some of the strikers that Keshi wants to test to see if they can fit into what he is planning to present in South Africa.
Hopefully Stephen Keshi's experimentation will yield dividends and also produce players that can graduate into the main squad and provide options for the gaffer as he heads towards Brazil 2014.
WHO PLAYS WHERE
Stephen Keshi has been a proponent of the 4-3-3 system and I assume he will stick to this system as he prepares his team for Chan Championship as he played same against the Ivorians in Kaduna and in the reverse leg.
Given any unforeseen circumstances Chigozie Agbim will play in goal and I suspect the defence is already settled. With Godfrey Oboabona's exit, Azubuike Egwuekwe will be the main man in the heart of the defence.
The Warri Wolves defender has been an integral part of of Keshi's team from the onset and his experience from the Africa Nations Cup and the Confederations Cup should be of good bearing. Umar Zango should partner Egwuekwe in defence, while usual suspects Benjamin Francis and Solomon Kwambe should expectedly man the full back positions.
The midfield will be a very interesting area as I presume Sunday Mba will be the pivot and probably Ugonna Uzochukwu as the anchor. Rabiu Ali also looks likely to start because he has started the last two matches for the Chan team. Ejike Uzoenyi should provide width while Oghenekaro Etebo might play just behind Gambo Mohammed ( if he is fit for the tournament.)
Christian Obiozor started the recent Jordan friendly and showed flashes of brilliance , so he just might get the nod if Gambo's injury worries persist.Ugonna Uzochukwu who was like a terrier in the middle of the pack in the friendly has also come good in due time and for my money, is a sure bet to get on the plane to South Africa.
|pic courtesy backpagepix|
All of these postulations are based on recent games, but again Keshi is known for his dexterity and can switch when he dims fit, but what is certain though, is that he has a huge task ahead of him as he continues to tinker his team for the biennial tournament.
Agree or disagree with me? Hit me up on twitter and let's banter: @RandaAndrew is the handle
Compliments of the season