Monday, July 7, 2014

Nigeria's next generation

Three years ago, Chelsea's Kenneth Omeruo was at the heart of the defence for Nigeria's Flying Eagles as they crashed out in the quarterfinals of the Fifa Under-20 World Championship in Colombia to France.

Ogenyi Onazi however did not make the party to Colombia 2011, after coach John Obuh dropped him from the final squad for the championship, as midfielder Ramon Azeez captained an exciting side that also included Ahmed Musa.

These four players, together with another prospect Godfrey Oboabona made Stephen Keshi's 23-man list for the 2014 Fifa World Cup with Omeruo playing every minute of Nigeria's participation at the tournament.

With Nigeria's ouster came the expected retirement of Joseph Yobo. The former Everton defender alongside goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, who was arguably the team's best performer at Brazil 2014 made their World Cup debuts at Japan/Korea 2002 and have carried the flag since then.

Enyeama, at 31, has probably another World Cup left in him, and so will the likes of Michael Babatunde, Uche Nwofor, Musa and Onazi who will definitely be leaders of the new generation of Eagles.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia is already on the horizon and Nigeria will look to qualify for their sixth appearance at the showpiece event albeit with the continual building of the Super Eagles with the injection of new blood who can strengthen the team and provide the handlers with more options.

In a three-part series,9jafooty takes a cursory look at some of the emerging youngsters who might come good in the next four years and become quality additions to the team while hoping that they eventually make the grade just like Omeruo, Onazi and Musa have done and are now the bedrock of the national set-up.

Oluwasemilogo Ajayi

Age: 20
Club: Arsenal Football Club (England)
Position: Central Defender

The London born defender, who is also called Semi Ajayi, is an imposing defender who is highly rated at the Emirates after he made the move there in 2013 from Charlton Athletic.

Standing at 6'4, he is very quick for his height and reads the game well. A good header of the ball, he has trained with the Arsenal first-team severally and is expected to make his first team debut against Barnet as Arsenal look to start their pre-season training.
Ajayi was involved with the under-20 team prior to the 2013 World Youth Championship in Turkey but was eventually dropped by Obuh from the final list of players.

Michael Olaitan

Age: 21
Club :Olympiacos Piraeus (Greece)
Position: Striker/Attacking midfielder

Olaitan was tipped to be part of Keshi's provisional team for the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil before he suffered a heart scare in a league game that saw his impressive season with the Greek giants end abruptly.

One of the stand-out performers for the under-20 team at last years World Youth Championship in Turkey, Olaitan made the transition to Olympiacos where he sent tongues wagging with some impressive displays in the Greek Super League and the Uefa Champions League.

He won the 2013/14 Super League with Olympiacos scoring 11 goals in 24 appearances in all competitions for the capital team before his season ended when he collapsed unchallenged during a league game.

A lot is expected from the former Mighty Jets player, who is tipped for a role in the Super Eagles once he gets back to full fitness.

Sebastian Osigwe

Age: 20
Club: Zug 94 (Switzerland)

Position: Goalkeeper

Osigwe came into national reckoning when he made Nigeria's under-20 team to the Toulon Invitational Youth tournament in France. Obuh gave the youngster a chance to shine and he showed enough promise to be included on this list.

Although he did not make the final cut, he showed decent reflexes and maturity beyond his tender age despite playing in the second tier of Swiss football.

The goalkeeper, who has under-15 caps for Switzerland, is tipped as one for the future and will surely be one of the new breed of goalkeepers expected to give Enyeama some competition as the years roll by.

Moses Simon

Age: 18
Club: AS Trecin ( Slovakia)
Position: Winger/striker

Once touted as the next big thing in Nigerian football, Simon was scouted by a couple of teams in the English Premiership before he signed a pre-contract with Ajax Amsterdam. The diminutive player has a lot of pace and is tricky with the ball at his feet.

The transfer did not come through eventually, and the 1995 Uefa Champions League winners, who still rate him, farmed him out to play for their sister club, AS Trecin in Slovakia to gain experience for the former Aminci Academy graduate.

Moses, who fans refer to as 'Daddy' was an instant hit for Trecin as he scored seven goals in 14 appearances to lead his team to second place in the Slovakian top flight and helping them into the Europa League qualifying rounds.

He has been touted for a return to Ajax as Frank de Boer is said to be happy with the his form and development.

Imoh Ezekiel

Club: Standard Liege
Age: 21
Position: Striker

The former 36 Lion FC striker already has an international cap, a cameo in the goalless draw with Mexico in April at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and is expected to grow to be a plus for Nigeria in the striking department.

Imoh is a quick-thinking forward who thrives in the box, and has been in outstanding form for his Belgian club Standard Liege where he has scored 11 goals in 30 appearances in all competitions

He was courted by Belgium last year, even rejecting overtures from Nigeria, but seems t have a change of heart. Hopefully, he will continue his football development in a positive light and be one of the new generation of stars as Nigeria begins the long road to qualification.

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