5 Super Eagles with a point to prove this FIFA break
The Super Eagles are Nigeria’s most recognisable team. No sporting brand is more marketable or uniting in West Africa’s most populous nation. A country rich in diversity, the loyalty of Nigerian fans cuts across the board from top European clubs to local sides. Yet these fans all cheer one team: the Super Eagles.
The Eagles have a winning legacy. Aside from three continental titles, they’ve appeared in every World Cup since 1994 bar 2006. As is the case with any football team, players come and go. There’s a new crop tasked with making their country proud at the World Cup in Russia.
The competition for places in the final squad that travels to Russia is fierce. To earn their place players must prove their mettle to Gernot Rohr in the Super Eagles' friendlies against Poland and Serbia.
Rohr has handed invitations to 28 players. Five at least will not take their opportunity lightly.
In some ways Ebuehi is reminiscent of Dele Alli. Like the Spurs star he was born in Europe to a Nigerian father and a European mother. Alli’s mother is English, Tyronne’s Dutch. Similar to Alli, Ebuehi initially declined the call to play for his fatherland. Unlike the former MK Dons midfielder, who went on to swear allegiance to England, Tyronne changed his mind and heeded Nigeria’s call in March 2017.
The Haarlem-born defender regularly features for ADO Den Haag in the Eredivisie. With the Eagles he has more to prove. The right-back position is currently synonymous with the meticulous Shehu Abdullahi.
But Ebuehi was brilliant in his cameo during the Super Eagle’s surprise 4-2 win against Argentina in November. Rohr will expect nothing less from the 22-year-old against Poland and Serbia.
Since the old guard departed Super Eagles faithful have found it hard to trust the liberos coming through. Steven Keshi, Augustine Eguavoen, Uche Okechukwu, and Christian Chukwu are missed. Leon Balogun and William Troost-Ekong are doing a job in rebuilding that trust. Barring any serious injury, chances another defender will displace either is slim to none. No one said it wouldn't be difficult but one player intends to have people agreeing it was Eze.
His brilliance with the Super Eagles home-based team earned him a move to Bulgarian top-flight side, Lokomotiv Plovdiv, where he has excelled. The 23-year-old will have to bring his A-game to impress Gernot Rohr.
What more can I say about Obi than I already have? The 26-year-old is no stranger to the Eagles setup but he last donned the green and white four years ago. This week he’ll get another chance. Although he earned it through hard work, the Torino midfielder must show Nigerians why he deserves a trip to Russia on the taxpayers' money. His chances received a huge boost following the uncertainty regarding skipper Mikel John Obi’s availability.
In less than two years with Al Ahly, Junior Ajayi has won the Egyptian Premier League, Egyptian Cup and Super Cup. Factor in his invitation to the Super Eagles and Ajayi's success with the Pharaohs becomes more glaring. The problem is he played no part in qualifying for the World Cup. Ajayi needs more than his Egyptian pedigree to fully convince scrutinising eyes.
The CAF home-based African Nations (CHAN) Championship provided a platform for the energetic Gabriel Okechukwu to display his talent on a bigger stage than the Nigeria Premier League. He took the opportunity with both hands, scoring a couple of goals in the tournament. His part in reaching the CHAN final opened the door to the Super Eagles mainstream.
Okechukwu plays for Akwa United. For a home-based player to break into a team packed with foreign-based professionals, the 22-year-old forward must maximise every opportunity. Hopefully, visa issues do not prove a stumbling block.