Sunday, March 22, 2015

Super Eagles: New era or testing the waters?

Leon Balogun.

The 28 man list released by Daniel Amokachi to play in the March international friendlies with Uganda and South Africa, has thrown up a lot of debate, and for some, a pointer to what direction the Super Eagles will take in the next few years.

Failure to qualify for the 2015 African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea indubitably meant something had to give, and give it did, as some regular members of the team were left out in the latest call up.
Celtic’s Efe Ambrose, Emmanuel Emenike who hasn't exactly sparkled for Fenerbahce this season and Monaco’s Elderson Echiejile were dropped from the Uganda and South Africa friendlies.

Watch Odion Ighalo score four goals against Blackpool

Third choice goalkeeper Chigozie Agbim , whom had come under a barrage of criticism by fans also made way as Amokachi looks to freshen up his squad after recent failures.
Odion Ighalo, Moses Simon from AA Gent in Belgium and Akeem Latifu were handed their maiden call ups while Leon Balogun, with a solitary cap to his name, has been included.

Ighalo, who has illuminated the English Championship with his goals this season is back in the set and so is midfielder John Ogu of Hapoel Be’er Sheva of Israel who has since rediscovered his form after his well documented problems at Academica de Coimbra

Vincent Enyeama, Godfrey Oboabona, Kenneth Omerou, Ahmed Musa, Sone Aluko, Ogenyi Onazi, Azubuike Egwuekwe were the usual suspects named into the squad as Amokachi continued is interim affair with the Super Eagles.

Maiden call up for Akeem Latifu

Like a hammer to an anvil, Vincent Enyeama is shoe in to be the man between the sticks as he gears up to hit a century of caps for the Super Eagles. The Lille goalkeeper has been a reliable servant to the cause and he surely deserves every plaudit he gets.

It gets interesting when the next two in line are Kano Pillars long serving goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai and green horn Chidiebere Eze from Gabros in the Glo Premier League.
Amokachi has left out regular second choice Austin Ejide from the squad, a move which might be a pointer or just a coach looking to establish who he will go with as back up to the first and second choices.

It is interesting to note here that Daniel Amokachi was in the stands at Nnewi to watch Gabros play Warri Wolves in a Glo Premier League fixture and Eze definitely left an impression on to warrant a first ever call up
Chima Akas is retained. Photocred-ShengolPix

Afelokhai was among the group who went on a mini tour of the Middle East in January and probably must have impressed to get a call up ahead of Daniel Akpeyi, who under Keshi, was the reserve goalkeeper in the home based Eagles side.
Eze must have shown a lot of potential to get a call up, but yet again, it’s all chop and change at this stage and he must grab his chance with both hands when he gets it.

The defence throws up a lot of rumination especially at the left side of defence where regular left backs Juwon Oshaniwa and Elderson Echiejile are both missing from the list.

Sharks of Port-Harcourt defender, Chima Akas is he only recognisable left back in the defence and it’s left to see how Amokachi deploys his defensive line up. Only time will tell if Oshaniwa and Echiejile are done with or it’s a case of Amokachi trying out new things.

There is no Efe Ambrose this time out which gives an opportunity for Leon Balogun and Akeem Latifu to stake a claim to the right back berth.

That position has been a problematic one for the Eagles since the departure of Chidi Odiah from the international stage. Yusuf Mohammed and lately Efe Ambrose have been deployed down that route but none has been able to convince as yet.

Of the seven defenders called up, there are four central defenders, two right backs and a single left back in what surely looks like an experiment by the handlers.

Anthony Ujah goals for FC Cologne

What is sure however, is the coaches want to chop and change the defensive line up of the Super Eagles with the introduction of Nelson Ogbonnaya, Chima Akas, Leon Balogun and Akeem Latifu who only have seven caps to boot between them

The battle for slots in the middle will be fierce as John Ogu makes a return to the team to challenge for a slot and so will Steven Ukoh who debuted in the game against Ivory Coast last January.

John Ogu's goal vs Hapoel Petah Tikva

Sone Aluko and Hope Akpan are also in the mix as Ogenyi Onazi and Babatunde Michael, who were both at Brazil 2014 are among the midfielders listed while Joseph Nathaniel of Sharks and Enyimba’s Kingsley Sokari are the home based midfielders called up.

The attack has a lot of goals written all over it as Odion Ighalo, Brown Ideye Anthony Ujah and Moses Simon all made the cut. While Ujah and Ideye are making a come back to the team, Ighalo and Moses are newbies in the Super Eagles. Between them, the four strikers have scored 38 goals going into the tail end of the season, considering Simon only joined Gent in the winter transfer window from Slovakian side AS Trecin.

New kid on the block: Moses Simon goals for AA Ghent
Aaron Samuel of Guangzhou R&F brings his power and pace into the squad and will hope to continue on his impressive run with the national team since his debut against Sudan last year. Mfon Udoh, last season’s top scorer in Glo Premier League is rewarded for his 23 goals as Ubong Moses Ekpai of Kano Pillars and Stanley Dimgba of Warri Wolves are also in the mix.

Amokachi’s list looks balanced on all fronts except in defence where only one left back is in the team, considering there will be two games in four days, the former Club Brugge player may have some ace up his sleeve to conjure some sort of formation to justify this anomaly.

The two friendlies will surely give us pointers to which direction the Super Eagles are taking as we try to banish the ghosts of Uyo when South Africa put paid to our Afcon 2015 qualification hopes.

Fortunately, the game against the Cranes of Uganda will mark Nigeria’s return to the stadium since that unfortunate night. Surely Amokachi’s jinns should be working overtime.

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