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Taiwo Awoniyi: coming close to Super Eagles reckoning

Taiwo Awoniyi has often made no bones about his Super Eagles ambitions; that is not new. Every time he would make that declaration, fans would take it with a pinch of salt; something that was always to be expected due to his indifferent form in club football. What is new however is that when he makes such statements now, fans will sit up and take notice simply because his current exploits in the German Bundesliga are making all and sundry take notice.

Yesterday, the 23 year old centre forward attacked a space with precision inside the 18 yard box before leaping to direct his pristine header into the far corner of the net to power his team to the lead against an opposition that are famed for participating in the prestigious UEFA Champions League; an opposition once coached by his substantive manager at Liverpool. That match between Union Berlin and Dortmund would end 2:1 with Awoniyi winning plaudits for his goal and overall contributions.

Against another behemoth of the European game in the way of current UEFA Champions League winners Bayern Munchen on the 12th of December, Awoniyi was unremitting in his nuisance ways. As restless that an angry caged soul, Awoniyi peppered the backline of Bayern constantly, doing everything a centre forward would do but this time without the ultimate end product of a goal to his name. I had a conversation with a fellow Nigerian football enthusiast about the match on Whatsapp as the guy brought opprobrium to Awoniyi’s inability to convert his chances on the night.

I was quick to draw his attention to strikers like Uruguay’s Cavani who is always as agitated as a pack of hyenas in and around the 18 yard box: they are nightmares for defenders. Yes, they could miss glorious chances on occasions but you can’t knock them for putting themselves about.

The goals will come, I said to him.

Sure enough, it came for Awoniyi – 2 in succession actually – against Stuttgart on the 15th of December and yesterday against Dortmund bringing his tally to 4 goals in 11 match (1 goal per 3 games; impressive!). You can’t be that effusive in and around the 18 yard box without it yielding results.

And the results are coming. Stuttgart, Dortmund, Bayern Munchen: those are the circles that Liverpool-owned Awoniyi mingles with and roughens up these days.

Whereas in the past when he would signal his intentions on the pages of online media platforms of playing for the Super Eagles, fans would be equally eager to move on to the next article on that platform without so much of a cursory glance at the content of that article. Not anymore.

So, is Taiwo Awoniyi a Super Eagles material?

Gernot Rohr has had more time than most Super Eagles managers in modern history to build a national team. Yes, several names keep floating here and there but in truth, his team is taking shape with few spaces left for gate-crashers. Gate-crashers, that is what Taiwo Awoniyi will be because if Osihmen, Iheanacho, Paul Onuachu and Ahmed Musa (an alternative centre forward option) are all fit and firing, it will be a major coup for Awoniyi to usurp any of them for the much coveted Super Eagles centre forward role.

On the fringes of Super Eagles initiation for that pivotal role are 1 or 2 other viable and exciting options whose goal scoring credentials might receive a boost in coming weeks. The competition is tight and the rivalry is fierce.

But, gate-crashing as a phenomenon is not alien to the Super Eagles over the years. Where there is a performance-will, there is a way in the national team. Centre forward Simmy Nwankwo came from almost nowhere to find himself on the plane to the World Cup in Russia 2 years ago. Unlike Simmy, Awoniyi is well known across age grade national teams. Some of his contemporaries are already household Super Eagles names. He might just be on the precipice of joining them.

All he has to do is keep hugging the headlines for his goals scoring exploits in the Bundesliga. If that that continues to happen, he wouldn’t have to gate-crash, the gate to the Super Eagles will open on its own accord for fans to finally see whether Awoniyi can translate club exploits to national team success (as we know, this has never always been the case!).

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