AFCON Squad 2021, Eguavoen on the right track but…

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Coach Augustine Eguavoen has announced Nigeria’s 28-man squad for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations starting in two weeks. The regular faces have retained their faces while there are a few surprises and, as expected, these have evoked mixed reactions from the team’s followers.

Super Eagles Players

By Imo-owo Mbede

It is pretty much the same team that would be picked by almost any coach at this point. However, for a team that also has one eye on the World Cup within the next year, I would expect certain bold decisions to have been made in the interest of the team’s future.

Nothing has changed in the goalkeeping department with the usual suspects, Francis Uzoho, Maduka Okoye, and Daniel Akpeyi all making the cut that includes Enyimba’s, John Noble. My only objection here is that I strongly believe that since the older Daniel Akpeyi is not the first or second choice, then a younger but equally experienced Dele Alampasu should have been picked.

The midfield has been in dire need of a reliable backup for Wilfred Ndidi as well as more creativity. Effectively, it is very heart-warming to see Frank Onyeka make the squad and, more so, the recall of Kelechi Nwakali. This is very commendable though the midfield can still do with more help in a creative sense as it still feels lightweight with just Joe Aribo and Kelechi Nwakali. Tunisian-based Kingsley Sokari of Etoile Du Sahel comes to mind.

In the defence, it’s the same story with the regular faces all making the cut. However, if we all are to be sincere, Leon Balogun is looking increasingly suspect because he has lost pace (he never really had) and is slowing down. Balogun will be 34 in June 2022 and poses a huge gamble in a year’s time at the World Cup. It would have therefore made futuristic sense to recall Semi Ajayi, who just turned 28 to the team in the place of the ‘aging’ Balogun.

The attack, I feel, is unnecessarily over-staffed, especially in central attack. With the versatility of Ahmed Musa and Alex Iwobi, the flanks have adequate support alongside Chidera Ejuke, Moses Simon, and Samuel Chukwueze. Musa remains the most experienced and has proven himself to be a big-tournament player for the team.

Centrally, Umar Sadiq and Odion Ighalo, are surplus to requirements. It can be argued that being the highest goalscorer in the last edition of AFCO, Ighalo is the only out-and-out striker with AFCON experience. However, just like he did not need any prior AFCON experience to emerge as a top scorer last time out, Taiwo Awoniyi and Emmanuel Dennis have shown that they have enough in their armoury to deputize for the recuperating Victor Osimhen who can yet do a job in Cameroon.  

On the whole, Austin Eguavoen seems to be on the right track as he has picked a fairly balanced squad for the tournament. The onus is now on the selected players to deliver and prove that they are deserving of a place in the team’s future beyond even the World Cup.

Imo-owo Mbede wrote this article. He is a Football Analyst and Sports commentator based in Abuja.

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