Super Eagles boss, Gernot Rohr recalled Mikel Obi and Kelechi Iheanacho in his 25-man provisional squad for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). The Franco-German tactician has largely kept faith with his regular players with only seven from his squad to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia missing. Completesports.com’s Oluyemi Ogunseyin takes a look at each player’s current profile…
Francis Uzoho (Anorthosis Famagusta, Cyprus)
Francis Uzoho became a household name among Nigerian football lovers in the year 2018 and was the Super Eagles’ first-choice goalkeeper at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
The 20-year-old’s impressive performances, thereafter, helped him to secure a move to Cypriot First Division club, Anorthosis Famagusta on a six-month loan deal from Deportivo La Coruña in January.
Uzoho was, however, caught up in an investigation into a health certificate issued to him by the Cyprus Sports Organisation (KOA) and played only three matches where he kept one clean-sheet, winning once and losing twice.
Gernot Rohr has now kept to his words by inviting the shot-stopper who has 13 international caps heading into the 2019 AFCON despite Uzoho’s struggles at club level this season.
Ikechukwu Ezenwa (Katsina United)
Katsina United goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa has been a member of the Super Eagles for close to four years after making his international debut on September 8, 2015 but has never been the first-choice despite making 18 appearances.
The 30-year-old was the Super Eagles’ second-choice goalkeeper at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and has featured for clubs like defunct Ocean Boys, Sunshine Stars and FC IfeanyiUbah in the NPFL.
As well as being part of Nigeria’s squad to last year’s Mundial, Ezenwa who is eyeing his first ever AFCON in June was the number one goalie for the home-based Eagles team that came second at the 2018 Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) in Morocco.
Daniel Akyeyi (Kaizer Chiefs, South Africa)
The oldest of the Nigeria’s three goalkeepers called up into the AFCON provisional squad, Daniel Akpeyi will be hoping Gernot Rohr considers him the experienced head to handle the pressure when the tournament starts in Egypt.
However, the 32-year-old has a difficult task on his hands of displacing Francis Uzoho from the number one spot despite having a change of scenery in January which saw him leave Chippa United for Kaizer Chiefs.
Akpeyi could not save Kaizer Chiefs from losing 1-0 to former side, Chippa United on Saturday after playing six league games for his new club for whom he failed to keep a clean-sheet while conceding seven goals. He has nine international caps for Nigeria.
Theophilus Afelokhai (Enyimba)
Enyimba goalkeeper, Theophilus Afelokhai has stated that he feels honoured to have been included in the Super Eagles AFCON 2019 provisional list of players despite still been placed on the standby list of national team invitation.
The 31-year-old is yet to make his international bow for the country despite having been in the national team setup for quite a while.
Olaoluwa Aina (Torino, Italy)
Olaoluwa Aina joined Torino on a season-long long loan from Chelsea during the 2018 summer transfer window and has been one of the shining lights for the Walter Mazzari’s side in the Serie A so far this season.
The wing-back who has seven caps for the Super Eagles will be eager to help the Bulls secure Europa League qualification for next season with two more Italian top-flight games left to prosecute.
Aina has scored a goal and contributed two assists in 28 league appearances for Torino.
Abdullahi Shehu (Bursaspor, Turkey)
Injury almost ruined Abdullahi Shehu’s hopes of making Nigeria’s AFCON 2019 provisional squad after the defender spent most part of the 2018/19 season on the sidelines for four months before making a return in January.
But ever since coming back, the defender with 25 caps for Nigeria has been quite impressive, grabbing an assist to help Bursaspor secure a vital 1-0 away win over ten-man Antalyaspor in a Turkish Super Lig encounter at the Antalya Arena last week Friday. It was Shehu’s 12th league outing this term from which he has made seven starts and scored once while also contributing an assist.
Chidozie Awaziem (Caykur Rizespor, Turkey)
Defender, Chidozie Awaziem represented Ligue 1 side, FC Nantes seven times where he was on loan s in the year 2018 before rejoining parent club, FC Porto where he played twice and collected a yellow card after which he joined Turkish Super Lig side, Rizespor in January.
The 22-year-old was at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He played twice for the Super Eagles last year and has gone ahead to earn four international caps and a goal to his name.
Despite actually teaming up with Rizespor only in January, Awaziem has so far clocked 1,179 minutes in 14 league appearances of which 13 have been starts with three yellow cards in his record.à
William Troost-Ekong (Udinese, Italy)
The huge importance of William Troost-Ekong to Udinese’s cause this season was evident last Sunday when the defender who just returned from injury helped the club secure their first victory in eight Serie A matches.
Troost-Ekong posted a solid performance at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, playing three games and going ahead to earn a total of 29 caps for the Super Eagles of Nigeria from which he has scored a goal.
The 25-year-old hard tackling centre-back has made 33 league appearances for Udinese this term, receiving four bookings and is expected to be named in Nigeria’s final 2019 Africa Cup of Nations squad which starts in Egypt on June 21.
Leon Balogun (Broghton & Hove Albion, England)
The 26-cap Nigeria international had a torrid time at Brighton & Hove Albion whom he joined last summer, making only eight appearances in the Premier League this season, making five starts and clocking a meagre 591 minutes.
The ex-Mainz 05 defendee did not keep a single clean sheet in the few matches he played for the Seagulls, conceded 10 goals, made 12 tackles with a 50% success rate, 17 interceptions, 32 clearances and 16 headed clearances.
Balogun had 27 recoveries, won 27 duels and lost 19, won 13 aerial battles and lost 10. The centre-back committed an error leading to a goal but scored one himself to record a quite disappointing EPL campaign. He also picked up two bookings after committing five fouls.
Kenneth Omeruo (CD Leganes, Spain)
42-capped Kenneth Omeruo appears to have done just enough to start for Super Eagles at the AFCON 2019 and Gernot Rohr may need to put sentiment aside and opt for the Leganes defender at the expense of match-rusty Leon Balogun.
Game week 36 in La Liga brought about one of the season’s unforeseen results as Leganes, keeping their 10th clean-sheet picked up a 3-0 win at Sevilla following an amazing rear-guard action by the Cucumber Growers with the impressive Omeruo playing an important role.
Omeruo’s performance in Seville was also special as the centre-back made nine clearances, recorded success in six of his seven duels and completed two of three attempted tackles to make Sofascore’s La Liga Team of the Week for two weeks running.
Jamilu Collins (SC Paderborn, Germany)
Jamilu Collins who made his Super Eagles debut in September 2018 is set for his first tournament with the Nigerian national team should he eventually make the final 23-man list having been called up into the 25-man provisional squad for AFCON 2019.
The 24-year-old has so far been capped six times by the Super Eagles and has been an integral part of the Paderborn team this term as they hope to secure their second promotion to the Bundesliga after going into relegation in the 2013-2014 season.
Collins has started all but one of Paderborn’s 33 league games as they sit in second position on the Bundesliga 2 table and the left full-back will hope to cap a good summer with club and country as he also aspires to make Nigeria’s final list to June’s AFCON in Egypt.
Semi Ajayi (Rotherham United, England)
Versatile footballer, Semi Ajayi had his best and most prolific season till date in the colours of Rotherham United despite the club suffering relegation from the SkyBet Championship into the third-tier of English football.
The 6-capped Nigeria international who plays as a defender or defensive midfielder scored seven goals and made an assist in 46 starts in 46 league outings for the Millers after been subbed off only once while seeing 4107 minutes of action.
He had his most productive month in March which saw him netting five times for Rotherham, once in a 1-2 defeat to Norwich City, twice in a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers and another brace in a 3-2 success against Blackburn Rovers.
Brian Idowu (Lokomotiv Moscow, Russia)
Brian Idowu who played in all three Super Eagles’ games at the 2018 FIFA World Cup has been put on the standby list of six players for the AFCON in Egypt.
The left full-back played 11 times for Russian side, FC Amkar Perm in 2018 before joining Lokomotiv Moscow where he has made 11 appearances this term, bagging a total of four bookings.
The 26-year-old also starred eight times for the Super Eagles last year, picking up a booking and overall, he has ten international caps with a goal to his name.
Ikouwem Udoh Utin (Enyimba, Nigeria)
There is an AFCON standby spot for Enyimba left full-back, Ikouwem Utin who was named in the Team of the Tournament at the U-20 AFCON finals in Niger Republic in February.
Meanwhile, the Flying Eagles’ coach, Paul Aigbogun has also named 4-capped Utin who recently sealed a 4-year transfer to Israeli top-flight side, Maccabi Haifa in his list of 21 players for the FIFA U-20 World Cup finals in Poland.
Valentine Ozornwafor (Enyimba, Nigeria)
There is also an AFCON standby place for Enyimba defender, Valentine Ozornwafor who was named in the Team of the Tournament at the U20 AFCON finals in Niger Republic in February of this year.
The 19-year-old who has made five international caps for the Super Eagles recently headed to Turkey with various reports suggesting he is set to complete a transfer to Galatasaray.
John Mikel Obi (Middlesbrough, England)
Mikel John Obi with six goals in 85 caps has not been with the Eagles since the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, staying away from the national team first because of injuries and then later because of what he termed ‘lack of motivation’.
But after regaining fitness and having a fine half-season run with Middlesbrough in the English Championship, the 32-year-old has returned to the team.
Mikel whose short term contract with Middlesbrough has come to an end saw action 18 times for the club in the SkyBet Championship, clocking a total of 1,600 minutes which yielded a goal.
Mikel who got booked four times scored his second league goal in English football but his first this season as Boro beat Rotherham United 2-1 on Sunday, May 5. However, Mikel’s strike was not enough for Boro to secure the last play-offs spot as they finished in seventh position with 73 points, just one point below Derby County.
Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City, England)
Wilfred Ndidi finished the 2018-19 English Premier League season as the top tackler ahead of Idrissa Gueye.
He made 144 tackles, one better than Gueye’s 143 and Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s 128. Since his move from KRC Genk, the 22-year-old has been outstanding in the English top-flight.
In his first season, he topped the tacklers’ chart with 138 tackles and was named Leicester’s Young Player of the Year for the 2017/18 season. He has also made history by becoming the first player to top of tackle chart for two consecutive seasons.
In the process, he racked up 3,298 minutes of action to become Leicester City’s most-capped outfield player of the 2018-19 season behind only goalkeeper, Kasper Schmeichel (3420 minutes).
Overall, who has played 25 times for Super Eagles made 83 interceptions, 143 total tackles and 80 clearances. Also, the former Genk man can boast of making 1,985 total passes and 80% passing accuracy.
Oghenekaro Etebo (Stoke City, England)
Oghenekaro Etebo will have the opportunity of increasing his tally of two goals in 21 international caps for Nigeria if he eventually makes the final 23-man Super Eagles squad to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
The attacking midfielder saw action 34 times for Stoke City in the SkyBet Championship, starting 29 matches, clocking 2,552 minutes with two goals and an assist to his name during the 2018/19 campaign.
His pass success percentage stands at 85.6 which is hugely impressive, having only teamed up with the Potters during the summer transfer window of the year 2018. Etebo was a recipient of six yellow cards and was also sent off on one occasion.
With all these stats, the 23-year-old looks to be a sure-bet for the 23-man squad of the Super Eagles for the up-coming AFCON.
John Ogu (Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel)
Ahead of the summer transfer window when he will also be on duty with the Super Eagles, John Ogu has redeclared his intentions to play in the premier league, La Liga or the Serie A in a tweet tagging the leagues’ official Twitter handles.
The 30-year-old who has won six domestic titles in Israel with Hapoel Beer Sheva will leave after five years at the club as he seeks fresh challenges elsewhere.
Ogu who packs bullets in his left foot has so far won 22 caps for Nigeria from which he has scored two goals while this season, the powerful midfielder has netted once in 23 Isreali league appearances with 13 bookings to his name.
Mikel Agu (Vitoria Setubal, Portugal)
Mikel Agu is on standby in the Super Eagles’ 25-man provisional list for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) which holds next month in Egypt. Agu was, meanwhile, the hero for Vitoria Setubal as he helped set up the winning goal in their 2-1 away win at GD Chaves over the weekend.
Having returned from a two-month injury lay-off, the 25-year-old started his first league game since February, his 17th this season with the three points boosting his club’s chances of survival.
Ahmed Musa (Al Nassr, Saudi Arabia)
Big-tournament player, Ahmed Musa will be drawing inspiration from the 15 goals he has scored for Nigeria in 78 international appearances when he features in next month’s Africa Cup of Nations which is set to hold in Egypt.
The 26-year-old has always risen to the occasion when much was expected of him and on 22 June, 2018, the former Leicester City forward scored twice in a 2–0 victory over Iceland in Nigeria’s second Group D match of the World Cup in Russia.
He also played ten games for the Super Eagles last year, netting four times. So far this season, Musa has scored seven goals and set up another seven in 23 Saudi Professional League games for Al Nassr.
Victor Osimhen (Sportiing Charleroi, Belgium)
Sporting Charleroi striker, Victor Osimhen who has been linked with a move to AC Milan is one of the players Gernot Rohr is banking on ahead of AFCON 2019. And the young man is quite dependable judging by his exploits this season which has seen him score 16 league goals, having made 28 starts in 31 Belgian Pro League games while also contributing four assists.
The 20-year-old Wolfsburg loanee is showing no signs of slowing down ahead of the AFCON with four of his 16 goals helping Charleroi move to the top of the Europa League play-off Group A with 16 points from eight games.
Osimhen’s prolific form in front of goal would likely see him being considered as a core striking option for Nigeria. He has been capped twice ahead of AFCON 2019.
Moses Simon (Levante, Spain)
Pacy winger, Moses Simon has rediscovered his form and confidence which had earlier deserted him at Levante following an injury-induced setback after joining from Belgian Pro League side, Gent during the last summer transfer window.
He also missed out on Super Eagles squad to the 2018 FIFA World Cup due to injury.
The 23-year-old has turned out to be a regular starter with Levante whom he has now made eight starts for in 18 La Liga appearances with a goal, an assist and one booking to his name.
Simon’s pace, trickery and skills on the ball will do a lot for the Super Eagles at the AFCON while he will also be eager to add to his tally of five goals in 23 international caps for Nigeria.
Henry Onyekuru (Galatasaray SK, Turkey)
The likes of striker, Henry Onyekuru will be hoping to make the final 23 of Nigeria’s squad to the Nations Cup in Egypt and the young man can achieve his dream particularly with his performances at club level this season.
Onyekuru joined Galatasaray on a season-long loan deal from Everton after he failed to secure a work permit to play in England and has been an instant hit in his debut season in Turkey, scoring 15 goals and getting six assists in 41 games.
The 21-year-old who was nurtured at the Aspire Academy where he spent five years at the Doha facility has made nine appearances, scoring once since he made his debut for the Super Eagles two years ago.
Odion Ighalo (Shanghai Shenhua, China)
Nigerians can heave a sigh of relief after learning that Super Eagles forward, Odion Ighalo will spend only two weeks on the sidelines after picking up an injury in Shanghai Shenhua’s 1-1 away draw against Tianjin Teda last week Friday.
Ighalo was replaced by Wu Yizhen in the 12th minute of the Chinese Super League contest following the injury but the injury was not too serious with the attacker, barring any unforseen circumstances, expected to return to the pitch in a fortnight.
The news has come asa respite for Nigeria coach, Gernot Rohr who will be banking on the former Watford man to deliver the goods for his side at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
The 29-year-old with 10 goals in 27 caps for Nigeria has been in fantastic form for Shenhua this season, scoring seven goals in nine league appearances, Ighalo also finished as top scorer in the AFCON 2019 qualifiers with seven goals.
Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, England)
Alexander Iwobi who is a nephew to former professional footballer, Austin ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha played 35 matches for Arsenal and scored three goals while making six assists.
The 23-year-old helped the Gunners record 19 wins, 7 draws and 9 losses. He also scored his three EPL goals with his right foot. Iwobi struck a total of 35 shots of which 14 were on target.
His shooting accuracy in the just-concluded EPL campaign stands at 40%, he created 10 big chances while he missed three of such in 22 starts, clocking 1,972 minutes and didn’t receive a single yellow card.
On the international scene, Iwobi has so far garnered 27 caps for the Super Eagles with five goals to his name. His skills and attacking forays can help the Super Eagles to a great outing at AFCON 2019.
Samuel Kalu (Girondins Bordeaux, France)
Samuel Kalu despite his injury travails this season is set to make his return to the Super Eagles by making the final 23-man AFCON cut. He has so far scored three goals and made two assists in 19 Ligue 1 appearances for Bordeaux this term
Paul Onuachu (FC Midtjylland, Denmark)
Paul Onuachu is on the verge of breaking an eight-year-old Nigerian record for the country’s top-scorer in the history of the Danish top-flight. This could happen before the end of the season amid speculation linking the 24-year-old with an exit from FC Midtjylland this summer.
Onuachu is Nigeria’s leading scorer in the European Leagues with 17 goals from 30 appearances this season but his tally in the Danish Superliga is 51 since making his debut in a 3-1 loss to Silkeborg in December 2012.
With 52 goals in 108 appearances in the Danish league, only ex-Nigerian international, Peter Utaka has scored more goals in the division than Onuachu.
FC Midtjylland face Brondby and Esbjerg in their last two league games of the season and Onuachu with a goal in two international caps can rewrite history by setting a new Super Eagles goal-scoring record.
Kelechi Iheanacho (Leicester City, England)
Nigerians are shell-shocked after the Leicester City forward got an invitation into the Super Eagles’ 25-man AFCON provisional squad despite his perilous form. The attacker recently emerged as Leicester’s fifth worst performer of the 2018/19 season, according to top football website, whoscored.com.
Iheanacho had a very low rating of 6.23, having had an abysmal campaign for the Foxes which saw him score just once in 30 Premier League matches this term. The former Nigerian youth international has seven goals in 23 caps for the Super Eagles but his last effort came in 2017 when the West African nation beat Argentina 4-2 in a friendly.
Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal, Spain)
Villarreal star, Samuel Chukwueze has been included in the Super Eagles’ 25-man AFCON provisional squad after he was left out of the Flying Eagles team for the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
The 19-year-old has been hugely impressive for Villarreal this season with his fantastic dribbling ability and lightning pace causing havoc amongst La Liga defenses time and again.
Chukwueze has scored 10 goals and assisted four in all competitions this season, a decent return considering the fact that the Yellow Submarines only just cemented their status in the Spanish top-flight.
On the international scene, though, the teenage attacker has just one cap for the Super Eagles in a friendly encounter with Uganda which ended goalless in November, 2018 which happened to be his debut.
JuniorAjayi (Al Ahly, Egypt)
Junior Ajayi is also on the AFCON standby list for Nigeria, having made a return from injury earlier this year to score four goals for Al Ahly in 13 Egyptian Premier League appearances.
The 23-year-old who has one international cap, however, faces stiff competition from the likes of Victor Osimhen, Moses Simon, Henry Onyekuru, Samuel Kalu, Paul Onuachu and Samuel Chukwueze for a final spot.