Nigeria’s quest for a fourth AFCON title begins in Egypt on Saturday and expectations from fans are high that Gernot Rohr’s Super Eagles would soar in the land of the Pharaohs. SOLAPE LAWAL-SOLARIN profiles the 23-man squad for the continental showpiece
Name: Francis Uzoho, Club: Anorthosis Famagusta, Cyprus, Height: 1.96m, International caps: 13
The Aspire Academy product has been the Eagles’ first choice in goal since his debut against Argentina in 2017.
At 1.96m, the Anorthosis Famagusta goalkeeper kept all three games at the 2018 World Cup and conceded four goals as the Eagles exited in the group stage.
He didn’t have much playing time last season after a controversial loan move from Spanish side Deportivo La Coruna to Anorthosis saw him feature in just three games.
Concerns were raised about the health certificate of the Nwangele-born keeper after he made his debut for the club, which led to Anorthosis losing nine points. However, Uzoho’s appeal against his personal penalty of a one-match ban and €1,000 fine was successful.
Name: Ikechukwu Ezenwa, Club: Kastina United, Nigeria, Height: 1.85m, International caps: 17
Clearly one of the testimonies from the domestic league, Ezenwa is a proof of the tremendous talents in the Nigeria Professional Football League.
Ezenwa got his first Eagles’ call-up in 2015 under former national team coach, Sunday Oliseh. But he hit the limelight under Rohr as a replacement for the sick Carl Ikeme during the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, making an impressive debut in the 4-0 win over fierce rivals Cameroon in Uyo.
He was the only home-based player in last year’s World Cup and holds same record as well at the forthcoming AFCON.
Name: Daniel Akpeyi, Club: Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa, Height: 1.87m, International caps: 2
The Nnewi-born goalie started his career with Gabros in 2005 before going on to star for Nasarawa United, Heartlands and Warri Wolves in the domestic league. He joined South African side Chippa United in 2015.
Akpeyi, now with Kaizer Chiefs, has not been the fans’ favourite after several below-average performances when given the number one spot in the national team.
He made his Eagles debut against South Africa in a friendly in 2015 as a replacement for Vincent Enyeama.
However, it was his showings against the Bafana Bafana in an AFCON qualifier in Uyo last year that raised concerns over his continued invitation to the national side, after a below per performance as the Eagles were beaten 2-0, the first competitive defeat to the visitors.
Name: Olaoluwa Aina, Club: Torino, Italy, Height: 1.75m, International Caps: 7
The former England youth international started his career in the U-11 cadre with EPL giants Chelsea. He was loaned to Hull City in 2017 and Torino in the just-concluded season, but has now been retained by the Italians on a permanent basis.
Aina established himself at Torino under Walter Mazzarri, becoming a key figure in the Turin-based side’s quest to qualify for Europe last season.
He played 30 times, starting 22 times, scoring once and providing three assists for the Olympico side.
Name: Abdullahi Shehu, Club: Bursaspor, Turkey, Height: 1.82m, International Caps: 27
Bursaspor right-back Shehu began his Eagles’ journey in January 2014. Thanks to the late Stephen Keshi who invited him to the national team. The former Kano Pillars man has gone on to earn 27 caps for the Eagles.
Shehu, who joined the Turkish side last January from Cyprus club, Anorthosis, suffered a three-month injury lay-off last season but returned to action in January.
He will face a fierce fight for a starting place at the AFCON against Aina, who’s been looking to take charge at the Eagles right-back.
Name: Chidozie Awaziem, Club: Rizespor, Turkey, Height: 1.92m, International Caps: 4
The FC Porto starlet, currently on loan at Riyespor, plays at centre-back but has been largely unconvincing in the national team, though he got on the score sheet when the Eagles beat Seychelles away from home, during the AFCON qualifiers.
The 22-year-old starlet who made 16 appearances for the Turkish side this season, was at last year’s World Cup but didn’t get to play. It might be same scenario in Egypt, with Kenneth Omeruo and William Troost-Ekong likely to be Rohr’s preferred candidates in central defence, after their impressive performances in La Liga and Serie A respectively last season.
Name: William Troost-Ekong, Club: Udinese, Italy, Height: 1.91m, International Caps: 29
The centre-back, born to a Nigerian father and Dutch mother, was one of the outstanding defenders in Serie A last season.
The Udinese star made 19 appearances for the Udine side as the Friuliani finished 12th last season. Aggressive, business-minded and a leader on the pitch, Troost-Ekong would be one of Rohr’s pillars in Egypt as the German targets African glory with the Eagles.
Name: Leon Balogun, Club: Brighton, Height: 1.90m, International Cap: 27
The Brighton defender’s debut campaign in the English Premier League might not have gone well, having featured only five times — two appearances in the FA – and bagging one league goal.
The ‘Oyibo Wall’ he built in the Eagles defence alongside Troost-Ekong would come in handy if he gets a starting role at the continental showpiece.
Name: Kenneth Omeruo, Club: Leganes, Spain, Height: 1.85m, International Caps: 44
The on-loan Chelsea defender had a break-out season in Spain with Leganes in La Liga, after loan spells with ADO Den Haag, Middlesbrough and Turkish sides Kasimpasa and Alanyaspor.
The 25-year-old, one of three Eagles players to have featured in a previous AFCON, shone brightly in La Liga in the just-concluded league season, making 30 appearances, thus sparking rumours about a possible return to Stamford Bridge who are under a transfer ban by FIFA.
Omeruo hasn’t featured for Chelsea since he joined the Blues seven years ago but he’s ready to make his loan move at Leganes permanent.
Name: Jamilu Collins, Club: Paderborn, Germany, Height: 1.78m, International Caps: 5
The Kaduna-born left-back got his first call-up September 11 last year against Seychelles in an AFCON qualifier before going on to play in a friendly against Liberia’s Lone Star and the AFCON qualifiers against Libya in Uyo and Tunisia.
The 23-year-old made 33 league appearances for Paderborn in Bundesliga 2, helping them gain promotion to the Bundesliga in the process.
A decent performance would further enhance his growing reputation as one of the youngsters to look out for in German football.
Name: Mikel Obi, Club: Middlesbrough, England, Height: 1.88m, International Caps: 86
Mikel’s inclusion in the squad to Egypt was met with mixed reactions, having been out since the 2018 World Cup. But the former Chelsea midfielder sure offers experience and maturity in a young Eagles side with 20 AFCON debutants.
Mikel spent two seasons in China before a loan deal at Middlesbrough in January. He had a commanding influence at the Riverside, where he was a model to other players. He was also outstanding, and is now being courted by some newly promoted clubs ahead of next season.
The Nigerian made 18 appearances, scoring one goal for the Championship side this season.
Name: Wifred Ndidi, Club: Leicester, England, Height: 1.83m, International Caps: 24
Wifred Ndidi’s £17m transfer to ex-EPL champions Leicester in 2017 is seen as one of the best deals by The Foxes. The Nigeria international has not only stepped into the huge shoes left behind by Frenchman Ngolo Kante, he’s been the ever-present engine-room of the club.
Ndidi’s value is not lost on the Foxes’ current coach, Brendan Rodgers, who described the Nigerian as “Leicester’s Steven Gerrard.”
The 22-year-old was the EPL’s best tackler with 65 per cent tackling rate, and averaged 49.51 passes per match last season. He made 38 appearances and bagged two goals for the Premier League outfit.
Name: Oghenekaro Etebo, Club: Stoke, England, Height: 1.76m, International Caps: 17
The ex-Warri Wolves man has been a revelation for club and country since he stepped into the limelight.
Etebo’s work rate, aggression and ability to embark on deep solo runs have endeared him to fans, and national team handlers.
Currently at Stoke in the Championship, the Nigerian international won the South-West Stoke City Player of The Year award, after racking up 34 league appearances, bagging two goals and an assist in the process.
Rohr would be hoping the Potters star replicates his club form in Egypt.
Name: John Ogu, Club: Hapoel Beer Sheva, Israel, Height: 1.92m, International Caps: 23
Big midfielder Ogu has managed just 23 caps for the Eagles despite making his debut against Kenya six years ago.
The 31-year-old quit the Israeli league last season after a successful five-year spell, which saw him winning three Premier League titles, two Israel Super Cup and one Toto Cup.
Name: Ahmed Musa, Club: Al Nassr, Saudi Arabia, Height: 1.73m, International Caps: 74
The Eagles have had to rely on the former Kano Pillars and VV Venlo star when the chips are down, as was evident at last year’s World Cup, when he grabbed a crucial brace against Iceland.
His speed and trickery on the ball have always been a thorn in the flesh of the Eagles’ foes. The 27-year-old’s importance and role in the Eagles’ attacking third is priceless.
Now plying his trade in Saudi Arabia, Musa remains an important asset and weapon for Rohr as the German plots a fourth AFCON title.
Name: Victor Osimhen, Club: Charleroi, Belgium, Height: 1.85m, International Caps: 2
Football enthusiasts are of the opinion that Osimhen’s inclusion in the AFCON squad is well deserved after his dazzling rescue mission for the U-23 side, who he helped qualify for the next stage of the 2020 Olympics qualifiers, grabbing a hat-trick and an assist as the young Nigerians beat Libya 4-0 in Asaba.
Also, his tremendous form last season at Belgian side Charleroi caught the attention of Serie A giants AC Milan and other top European sides.
Osimhen’s 16 goals in 32 appearances for the Belgian side won him the club’s Player of The Season award.
The 20-year-old striker fired the Golden Eaglets to a fifth U-17 World Cup title in Chile four years ago, scoring 10 goals in the process, the highest number of goals scored by an individual player, at the event.
Name: Samuel Kalu, Club: Bordeuax, France, Height: 1.76m, International Caps: 6
Kalu made 21 league appearances, grabbing three goals and three assists as Bordeaux finished 14th on the table last season.
The Nigerian attacker was also on the scorers’ sheet as his side raced into the last four of the French League Cup before crashing out to Strasbourg.
The Abia born player has represented Nigeria six times, scoring one goal, since he made his international debut in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Seychelles in September 2018.
Name: Moses Simon, Club: Levante FC, Spain, Height: 1.68m, International Caps: 22
The Jos born star received his first call-up under Coach Daniel Amokachi in March 2015 and made his debut on the 25th of the same month in an international friendly against Uganda, replacing Anthony Ujah after 59 minutes in the game.
He was named in Nigeria’s preliminary 30-man squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. However, he couldn’t make the final 23 due to injury.
Simon in the just concluded La Liga season played 23 times in all competitions, bagging one goal as Levante finished 15th on the table.
Name: Odion Ighalo, Club: Shanghai Shenhua, China, Height: 1.88m, International Caps: 26
After starting his career at Prime FC and Julius Berger, Ighalo became a ‘journey man’ as he pitched his tents with Norway’s Lyn in 2007 before joining Grenada, Watford and Chinese sides, Changchun Yatai and Shanghai Shenhua.
The striker’s form in front of goals for the Eagles has raised dusts in the wake of his uninspiring display at last year’s World Cup.
However, with recent upturn in form for Shenhua, where he bagged 21 goals, Rohr will be hoping Ighalo has his shooting boots on in Egypt as the team gun for glory.
Ighalo was the Eagles top-scorer in qualifiers as his seven goals helped secure the ticket to Egypt.
Name: Alex Iwobi, Club: Arsenal, Height: 1.83m, International Caps: 28
Iwobi was one of the shining lights in Arsenal’s below-average performance last season.
The Eagles forward racked up 51 appearances, scoring nine goals in all competitions for Unai Emery’s side.
The 23-year-old’s cracking goal in the Gunners’ 4-1 loss to North London rivals Chelsea in the Europa final remains one of his stand-out displays for the Emirates side.
No doubt, his inclusion in the 23 man-squad will further boost the team’s chances at landing a fourth AFCON title.
Name: Henry Onyekuru, Club: Galatasaray, Height: 1.75m, International Caps: 7
The on-loan Everton winger has been a revelation at the Telcom Arena.
Onyekuru played 44 times across all competitions, scoring 16 goals for the Turkish giants.
Galatasaray fans would remember him for being on the score sheet in the 2-1 win against Istanbul Basaksekir on the final day as the Istanbul giants retained the Turkish title.
The Aspire Academy’s product inclusion will definitely add more potency to the Eagles attack in Egypt.
Name: Samuel Chukwueze, Club: Villarreal, Spain, Height: 1.72m, International Caps: 1
Samuel Chukwueze justified his inclusion in Europe’s top 50 U-20 sensations, occupying the 25th position based on CIES ranking for this season.
He had a superb season with the Yellow Submarines, playing 47 times across all competitions while also bagging 10 goals in the process for the La Liga side.
His inclusion in the AFCON, 23 man-squad will surely add flair and pace to the Eagles attack.
Name: Paul Onuachu, Club: Midtjyland, Denmark, Height: 2.01m, International Caps: 2
The striker’s build brings to mind Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Onuachu’s 6ft 7 frame and robust play is a handful for opposing defenders.
He grabbed a wonder goal on his debut against Egypt in a friendly in Asaba in March, scoring in less than 10 minutes to justify his invitation to the national team.
Onuachu scored 21 goals in 39 appearances as he led Midtjyland to Danish Cup glory. He would be expected to effectively use his impressive stature in Egypt as the Eagles eye their fourth AFCON glory.